Hancock’s Land Grab, cont’d. – Oh what a tangled web is weaved…

So, let it never be said that George In Denver expects anything less (or more) from Denver’s politicians, most notably its mayors who, like Michael Hancock, just a day after the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) refused by an 11-6 vote to accede to a de-designation of nine acres of Hentzell Park as a Natural Area, spurned the PRAB’s “advisory” vote, and further characterized the Natural Area as “blighted.” (The details of Hizzoner’s reaction is here. My take on the entire issue, i.e., the trade of the city’s Natural Area for a building owned by DPS, “Mayor Hancock’s Land Grab and Giveaway,” is here.)

I came across an article that appeared in the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle, entitled “Denver Parks and Recreation – A Department at a Dangerous Crossroad,” written by Charles C. Bonniwell, the publisher. The article details some history of the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) relating specifically to an earlier passion of DPR managers to assure the continuing well-being of the park system, and those later managers whose ineptness has severely compromised that well-being, that passion for beautiful parks and urban open spaces. It’s a good read that ends with the hopeful note that Lauri Dannemiller, the latest Manager of Parks and Recreation, will find her feet–and perhaps her better angels–and become herself passionate about maintaining and nurturing Denver’s precious open spaces.

As much as I would like to expect the best from Ms. Dannemiller, there remains the inescapable reality that she in an appointee of the mayor and, as mayoral appointees are want to do, (their jobs depend upon it), she will carry the mayor’s water regardless of  what logic and passion might otherwise urge her to do. And that, as they say, is politics.

Back to Mayor Hancock’s identification of the Hentzell Park Natural Area as “blighted.”

I won’t bore you with the meaning of that word, blighted, but will share where my thoughts took me upon first reading what the mayor had to say.

Generally knowing how bureaucracies work, especially when some subject matter arises that gains citizen interest, with that interest again generally going against the intent of the bureaucracy, I searched Denver’s Revised Municipal Code (DRMC) for that word, blighted. Here’s what I found:

Sec. 56-200. – Legislative intent.

(a)     Findings of fact. Due to its general terrain and geographical location, the city is particularly subject to damage from stormwaters which, from time to time, overflow from existing watercourses and drainage facilities, and imprudent use of these natural hazard areas called floodplains will pose a continuing and greater danger to life and property in the future unless proper regulations are adopted.

(b)     Statement of purpose. This article is enacted to promote the public health, safety, and general welfare, and to minimize public and private losses due to flood conditions in specific areas, by provisions designed to:

(1)      Protect human life and health;

(2)      Minimize expenditure of public money for costly flood control projects;

(3)      Minimize the need for rescue and relief efforts associated with flooding and generally undertaken at the expense of the general public;

(4)      Minimize prolonged business interruptions;

(5)      Minimize damage to public facilities and utilities such as water and gas mains, electric, telephone and sewer lines, streets and bridges located in areas of special flood hazard;

(6)      Help maintain a stable tax base by providing for the second use and development of areas of special flood hazard so as to minimize future flood blight areas;

It’s important to note this is the only occurrence of that word, blight, in the entire DRMC. And, just to emphasize my eventual point, let me just repeat what I believe is relevant here: (6) Help maintain a stable tax base by providing for the second use and development of areas of special flood hazard so as to minimize future flood blight areas; 

It is my understanding that the Hentzell Park Natural Area is in a flood plain, and am assuming it is in an area “…of special flood hazard…,” although I can find no handy definition of “special flood hazard” in the DRMC. If I am correct, then a little piece I read at Denver Direct intrigues. Entitled, “A Personal Observation about the Hentzell Park Deal,” a retired businessman, Bill Langton, provides:

 So why create this subterfuge? [The city giving the Natural Area to DPS and, in return, DPS giving the city a building] If you take the jaundiced view that the city wants this land for commecial development to increase the tax base, it starts to make sense.

The city could not take public land under the DPR rules because it is classified as natural area and prohibited from such acts. But if the administration reclassified it and the school district took over the land then when the school district determined that it was unfit for an elementary school they could sell it for commercial development.

Ah, indeed, Mister Langton. His conclusion:

So, ergo, the open space is gone, the DPS now can move forward to sell the site for commercial development.

It is hard to imagine building an elementary school next to Havana, one of the busiest state roads in Denver. Children would have to cross Havana to go to school and I assume a 15 mph speed limit would have to be posted during rush hour. This would create a major traffic and safety problems. Children would also use the trail to go to school and run off all of the existing wild life that makes the trail so special. In other words, it is my opinion that school would never be built.

As I said, I know how bureaucracies work. And, if I were the mayor, if some nitpicky, troublesome, otherwise irrelevant open space proponents questioned my yet to be implemented decision to do something, anything, then I would get on the phone with the city attorney and say, “Help me out here!” And, Voila! I’d get my answer: “Blight,” the CA would say. “Call it blighted. It’s in the Code. No judge would give those fools the time of day. It’s LAW!”

The retired businessman, Bill Langton, ends his piece with the observation that perhaps he’s wrong in ascribing some nefariousness to this scheme worked out by the mayor and DPS. I, too, offer my own observation that conspiracy theories usually capture the imagination of pesky nuts who have nothing better to do. Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by this turn of events.

We’re told that Lauri Dannemiller will have her decision to de-designate or to not de-designate that portion of Hentzell Park as a Natural Area by January 2nd or 3rd. Mirroring Charles Bonniwell’s hope that Lauri Dannemiller will do what’s right in this case, I cannot bring myself to imagine that “what’s right” will, once again, as it usually is, become what’s most expedient politically for Hizzoner, Michael Hancock.

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