Friends of Denver Parks, a nonprofit group, filed suit Thursday against Denver city officials and the Denver Public Schools, requesting that the Denver District Court stop the trade of southeast Denver park land to the school district for a Downtown building.
The lawsuit alleges an illegal land swap of 10.7 acres of land in Paul A. Hentzell Park Designated Natural Area, and a secret oral agreement between Mayor Michael Hancock and the Denver Public Schools in 2011.
Agents for the mayor promised the portion of the park land three years ago to the school district, according to the lawsuit. In April, the Denver City Council approved the land swap on April 1, 2013 in a 10-3 vote. Denver Post columnist Susan Barnes-Gelt called it an April fool’s joke.
Without public notice, a written agreement was signed on April 10, 2013 to transfer park land to the school district no later than June 30.
Neighbors have attempted to petition the city, but have been turned away twice by city Clerk & Recorder Debra Johnson, said the plaintiffs’ attorney John Case.
Along with the city and the school district, Johnson is a defendant in the lawsuit. Case wrote Johnson that her rejection of the petition materials amounted to an “unconstitutional” infringement of the people’s power to repeal legislation by referendum.
On its website, the Audubon Society of Greater Denver alerted its members. This weekend, a petition will be circulated at the People’s Fair to bring the matter to a vote. Neighbors are asking to repeal the ordinance approving the swap and to “de-designate” the natural area as park land that will be protected in perpetuity.
The proposal would set an elementary school in a floodplain, by Havana Street, a four-lane thoroughfare with a 45 miles-per-hour speed limit. The city would use the Downtown building at as a 40,000 square foot resource center for battered women. The city would pay the school district $705,000.
In filing the lawsuit, the nonprofit was joined by two individuals – Steve Waldstein and Zelda Hawkins, who live and own property in the nearby Hampden Height s neighborhood. All plaintiffs are represented by Case, who took the case pro bono.
“This is a simple case,” said Case on Friday.” The land is part of a park. The law says it cannot be sold or transferred without a vote of the people.”