Denver Direct: A personal observation of the Hentzell Park deal

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A personal observation of the Hentzell Park deal

by Bill Langton
Special to Denver Direct

To follow on with the saga of trading the 11 acres of land controlled by Denver Parks and Recreation for a closed school at 13th and Fox to be used as a Shelter for Abused Women and Children, the DPR (Denver Parks and Recreation) Advisory Board voted 11-to-6 against the proposal (December 13). I attended the meeting to see what this was all about. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Parks Board is advisory. DPR is capable of accepting the advice or rejecting it. Time will tell.

I would like to give you my observations on this complex issue foisted on DPR.

As a retired businessman, I found early in my career that these kinds of proposals are never what they seem to be. So, the rule is to follow the money and you will uncover the motive.
First, if the city wanted the school on Fox Street for a shelter, the city could could simply buy it and create the shelter.
Second, if we need a elementary school for southeast Denver, the School District could find a site and develop it. The vote in November gave the District plenty of money.
So why create this subterfuge? 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.
To get the declassification, city officials needed to create a situation where if DPR Advisory Board did not vote to reclassify they they were against Abused Women and Children and were against schools. What a dilemma!
Fortunately, some on the Advisory Board asked some very straight questions. Is this really a fair exchange? The Mayor’s representatives said “Oh yes.” The school on Fox Ave is valued at 3.7 million and the 11 acres of open space is valued at 3.2 million. How can that be unless it was valued as commercial property? It has no value as open space.
Board members also asked if the DPS was committed to building on this site. They went into great detail on how there would also be community facilities, such as, a ball field for everyone to enjoy. But, then they also recieved a letter from the DPS (Denver Public Schools) saying that the School District would not be able to start building until 2014 and if the demographics or anything else changed, they might not go forward.

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.
This is my view from listening to the discussions at the Parks Advisory Board meeting and my experience in business. It may or may not be as nafarious as I have made it out but I do think this was a con from the start and the real questions is what developer is behind it and how does the Mayor benefit other than increasing a tax base.
Anyway, one major bullet has been dodged, for the time being, but I think we have to watch this very closely.
Bill L.