Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hancock Digs in After Negative Vote, Calls Hentzell Natural Area “Blighted”

By Dave Felice

Hentzell Natural Area - photo by Ray Ehrenstein
In an e-mail response to Denver resident Marty Amble, Mayor Michael B. Hancock signals he intends to reject a vote of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to retain designation of the Hentzell Park Natural Area.
Hancock’s e-mail is dated December 15, two days after the Advisory Board’s 11-6 vote against his proposal to de-designate nine acres of parkland and trade it for a Denver Public Schools office building downtown. 
Instead of acknowledging that the Board and concerned citizens citywide might have a valid point of view, Hancock is now stating that nine acres of Hentzell Park Natural Area are “blighted, overrun with weeds, and have lost any significant natural area values.” 
If that is true, it is because the Parks and Recreation Department—which is under Hancock’s control in the Executive Branch—has abandoned any maintenance or restoration of natural areas. 
And as numerous citizens and the City’s retired naturalist Susan Baird testified before the vote, the mayor’s statement is untrue: this natural area has much native vegetation and supports numerous species of native wildlife.  It is not a manicured park of Kentucky blue grass because it was never intended to be so.
Park advocate Joe Halpern declares:  “It is shocking to me that the Mayor has gone from calling the area “underutilized” Thursday night in his statement at the Advisory Board to “blighted.”  If the Mayor considers this natural area worthless, what hope is there that he will not see other natural areas in the city as prime building sites for his real estate deals?”
In fact, one major point made by the Advocates for Denver Parks coalition is that many areas which are commonly thought of as parks are not designated or dedicated, and could also be in jeopardy of abuse or destruction.

Date: Sat, 15 Dec 2012 10:25:31 -0700
Subject: RE: Hentzell Park Natural Area - Comments
Marty –
Thank you for your email regarding the 26-acre Hampden Heights Natural Area. The City and County of Denver and Denver Public Schools are currently negotiating a trade of nine acres of the natural area for a 46,000-square-foot building at 1330 Fox St. near downtown Denver.
The proposal provides an optimal location for a much-needed early education center and elementary school in the Hampden Heights neighborhood while allowing the city to deliver a centrally located, easily accessible domestic violence resource center.
The land swap is a unique opportunity to deliver better services for our children and families, while activating under-utilized land and saving taxpayers money. These nine acres are not presently designated as parkland. Rather, they have become blighted, overrun with weeds and have lost any significant natural area values. (emphasis added)
Like you, I am committed to improving our park system and open space areas.  I have worked tirelessly to preserve and increase park space and natural land for families, children and neighborhoods. As a former City Councilman, I proudly helped the city add more than 300 acres of new open space. As Mayor, I’ve strongly supported our Parks and Recreation Department’s efforts to continue adding new parkland and open space. 
On the whole, Denver will see our park and open space portfolio grow by another nearly 140 acres within the next five years. Specifically, I look forward to working with Councilwoman Peggy Lehmann to designate the remaining 15 acres of the Hampden Heights Open Space as Hentzell Park.  This will increase the size of the dedicated Hentzell Natural Area to 76.7 acres.
Our city has one of the best and most lauded urban park systems in the nation. I assure you that we will continue to grow our parks system wherever we find opportunities, and we will continue to chart a course to enhance the welfare and well-being of all of our residents.
Michael B. Hancock


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