Attorneys for the City and County of Denver said that the Hampden Heights North Park was acquired by the city for drainage. The best use of the land would be as an elementary school which would ease overcrowding in southeast Denver.
Hampden Heights North abuts the Hentzell Park Designated Natural Area.
Owners of neighboring properties like Steve Waldstein said no boundaries existed between the park and the natural area. “I always called it the park,” he testified as a plaintiff against the city and the Denver Public Schools on June 13. He told the court of his enjoyment of the open space and quiet.
He recently had his property reappraised. Due to the proximity of the open space of Hampden Heights North, his property was worth $20,000 more. “It’s literally behind my back fence,” he said.
Waldstein joined with members of the nonprofit Friends of Denver Parks in suing the city and the school district. They hope that Judge Herbert L. Stern III will grant an injunction stopping the unprecedented transfer of park land to the school district for a new elementary school. In exchange, the city would get a Downtown DPS building for a victims’ shelter. The city would pay DPS $705,000.
The Friends nonprofit was joined by Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation. Some members felt intimidation against the move by the Mayor’s office.
The nonprofit’s attorney John Case said both the park and the natural area are used for recreation.
Local historian and publisher Charles Bonniwell testified as an expert witness about the long-standing recreational history of the site along Cherry Creek. The path was once a Wells Fargo Stagecoach route, from the 17 Mile to Four-Mile House properties. The route later became popular for stables, and horseback riders could be seen along the path, which passed through Hentzell and Hampden Heights North Park, said Bonniwell, publisher of the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle. “Bikes have replaced horses,” he said.
A day earlier on Wednesday, Susan Baird, former acting Natural Resource director for the city, testified that the two areas have always been treated as one contiguous piece. She called Hampden Heights North a “passive park,” with unique offerings compared to the artificial conditions of traditional parks.
Hampden Heights North contains colonies of prairie dogs – a “keystone species” on which other animals, such as eagles, hawks and coyotes, depend.
Once construction begins, the pristine condition can’t be returned, she said.