Opinion: Land Swap Snafu Obscures the Real Problem

June 4 2013, 11:20 AM

A few months ago, the Denver City Council cut a deal in which the city would swap about 11 acres of unoccupied park land near South Havana Street and East Girard Avenue, AKA Hentzel Park. Denver Public Schools (DPS) would then build an elementary school on the site to help alleviate overcrowding in existing southeast Denver schools. In exchange, DPS would give the city a 40,000-square-foot building downtown, which the city intends to use as a resource center for victims of domestic violence.

On the surface, the deal seems like a win for all sides. Unfortunately, the way it came together seems to have been seriously bungled. Last week, a park advocacy group filed a lawsuit contending that the city violated its own laws by not allowing the reallocation of park land to be put to a vote by local citizens.

The group, Friends of Denver Parks, has also launched a petition drive to put the proposed deal on the November ballot. However, the agreement is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month, which would make voting on it four months later all but moot.

While the loss of one small park may anger residents who live near Hentzel, it seems a modest price to pay for the addition of a much-needed elementary school. There also are two golf courses and at least four other parks within a half-mile or so of Hentzel, and the Cherry Creek Reservoir and its massive open space is just across I-225 from the area, so it's not like this part of Denver is wanting for green space.

What should be of greater concern to all Denverites is what killing this deal might do to the proposed domestic violence center. As 5280's Natasha Gardner detailed in her moving account of one local woman's tale of surviving domestic violence, the city—indeed, all cities—desperately need to make it easier for these victims to find the help they need to escape their terrible situations and rebuild their lives. That's why the proposed Rose Andom Domestic Violence Center would make Denver one of the most progressive communities in the United States when it comes to solving this widespread problem.

This doesn't mean that Denver city officials should feel free to skirt established laws and procedures to make such visions a reality. But it would be a bitter shame if this apparent corner-cutting derailed such well-intentioned and crucial plans to put our women and children first.

Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.