City Park Alliance Supports Updating the City Park Master Plan

For the past several months, board members from the City Park Alliance have been participating in a workgroup regarding the potential landmark designation of Denver’s City Park. On March 24, we sent a letter to Steve Turner, Director of the Colorado State Historical Fund, expressing our support for a grant to develop guidelines for and to update the City Park Master Plan. Our reasons for supporting this effort are described within the following letter.
_____________________________

Steve Turner
Director, Colorado State Historical Fund
1200 Broadway
Denver, CO 80203

Dear Mr. Turner:

We appreciate the opportunity to be involved in discussions regarding the potential local historic landmark designation of Denver’s City Park. The City Park Alliance’s (the Alliance) vision is for City Park to maintain its historic character and flourish for future generations, providing all visitors with positive and memorable experiences. As such, we would like to express our support for the development of design guidelines for City Park and for the update of the City Park Master Plan. We believe that these two essential tools are critical to the ongoing preservation of City Park’s historic character.

City Park is an extremely important piece of Denver’s park system because it is both a neighborhood and regional park. It is highly revered by users as a pastoral and beautiful open space, as an active space, and for its numerous historic elements. The park as a whole is an historic landmark of success in the long line of efforts to create critical open spaces of sufficient scale and care to ensure places of respite within urban cores. Recently, there has been increased pressure in the park to develop open spaces as the surrounding community becomes more densely populated. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Zoo also both expanded their impact on the park with new developments in 2013 and 2014.

As a case in point, in 2013 and 2014, the Alliance sponsored public meetings about the design for a new playground project known as the City Loop. At the end of the meeting process, a large architectural play element that would have encompassed 17 acres in City Park won a national contest and was chosen. Although it was not built in City Park due to public pressure, the process was instructive going forward. It was evident that there were no design guidelines to gauge the appropriateness of the features, lighting, vegetation, walkways, and the general look of what was being proposed. The final design chosen (albeit an award winning spectacular design) ignored the historic character and feel of City Park. The City Park Master Plan did not contemplate a giant playground.

The character of some neighborhoods surrounding City Park is changing. Thus development pressure within the Park will continue. Some of these neighbors are interested in the quiet aspects of City Park, while other neighbors are looking for more activities in City Park. A thoughtful and inclusive Master Plan and design guideline development process would help the community navigate future changes in City Park while respecting its historic character.

Citizens have become more increasingly involved in the policies that affect City Park. The number of people reading the publications from City Park Alliance has increased exponentially over the past three years. We at the City Park Alliance prefer to spend time and financial resources towards improving City Park rather than facilitating discussions between groups and individuals where the rules for projects in City Park are not known. Updating the Master Plan and creating design guidelines can reduce needless controversies, and false starts, by fostering a common understanding of expectations.

City Park is an extremely important piece of Denver’s legacy. Visitation to this park will increase. The neighborhoods will continue to rely on the park for activity and for quiet spaces. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Zoo will continue to look for opportunities to grow and enhance their visitor experience. The Alliance believes that this is the time to define the appropriate pathway forward by updating the Master Plan and creating design guidelines for Denver’s largest park and a regional historic gem.

We support the request for a grant to develop design guidelines and to update the City Park Master Plan. The Alliance looks forward to being involved in these efforts as an organization dedicated to maintaining the character of City Park.

Greg Davis, Board Chair
City Park Alliance

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Volunteer to Repair the Mile High Loop and Maintain City Park

On April 22nd from 9am-12pm, Denver Parks and Recreation, in partnership with the City Park Alliance and Starbucks, will be restoring the Mile High Loop trail. Volunteers are needed to help spread crusher fine on the Mile High Loop Trail, stain and paint the wooden playground, remove debris, and spread fibar in the playground along with other projects needing maintenance.

Registration is needed for this event.

Please E-mail tina.myers@denvergov.org or call 303.698.4904 to participate.

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Mile High Loop 2015 Assessment

The City Park Alliance recently completed its 2015 assessment of the Mile High Loop. The 2015 assessment includes information on trail conditions and provides recommendations for repair and improvement. This report was submitted to Denver Parks and Recreation as part of a public-private partnership to maintain the Mile High Loop trail in City Park. The next actions for 2015 include completing a Memorandum of Agreement with Denver Parks and Recreation which details this public-private partnership and finalizing donations and the scope-of-work for the Starbucks Day of Work in City Park on April 22, 2015. City Park Alliance will be donating supplies to support the repair of the trail on this day. As the day approaches and all details are finalized, we will be sending out requests for volunteers. Mile High Loop 2015 Trail Condition and Assessment Report Are you a regular user of this trail? If so, take a look and provide your comments.

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Historic Denver Leads Exploration of Historic Designation for City Park

From: Annie Levinsky – Executive Director, Historic Denver

On February 24 at 6:00 pm, Historic Denver will host an informational meeting about the possibility of designating City Park as a local landmark district. The meeting will be held at L2 Church at 1477 Columbine. It is an early opportunity for citizens to engage in the exploratory work done by a stakeholder group convened by Historic Denver, Inc. in July 2014, known as the City Park Historic Designation Exploration Committee.

Founded in 1882, City Park is one of the oldest parks in Denver. Historic Denver, a non-profit organization founded in 1970, agreed to facilitate this conversation due to a key suggestion in the 2001 City Park Master Plan, as well as recent controversies and requests from community members.

In consultation with the Department of Parks and Recreation, Historic Denver convened a group of 13 stakeholders, including representatives from Parks and Recreation, Community Planning & Development/Landmark Preservation Commission, City Park Alliance, the Council District 8 Office, City Park Friends and Neighbors, and several at-large community representatives.

The goals of City Park Historic Designation Exploration Committee are simple:

  • Explore what local landmark designation can (and cannot) do for City Park
  • Identify the steps needed to make the designation process thoughtful and successful for all stakeholders

Steps being discussed include a potential update to the 2001 Master Plan, followed by the possible development of design guidelines. No decision has yet been made regarding the pursuit of local historic designation for City Park. That decision is one of several steps that lie ahead.

A key finding of the committee to date is that historic designation would not impact the way the park is permitted for specific uses or events; it pertains only to City Park’s physical attributes. Additionally, historic designation does not “freeze a place in time,” but is rather a process for managing change through a public framework.

There will be continuing opportunities for community engagement, both during the exploratory phase and during potential public processes in the future.

This conversation is designed to be the first phase in a four-phase process.

1. Exploration

2. Outreach and education

3. Planning

4. Implementation (if there is continued support for the idea)

Beyond this four-phase process, landmark designation is a formal city process that requires a detailed application, review by the Landmark Preservation Commission, and public hearings at the Landmark Preservation Commission and City Council prior to a full City Council vote. Additionally, other public processes would likely need to precede a designation application, including a potential update to the City Park Master Plan, now nearly fifteen years old.

Historic Denver Executive Director, Annie Levinsky, who is chairing the Exploratory Committee explained, “Before formulating opinions, we thought it important to really understand what historic designation would mean for City Park, and this committee has done some great work to answer that question.”

As background, the group has

  • Reviewed the 2001 City Park Master Plan, which includes a historic assessment
  • Understood the impact of the park’s National Register of Historic Places designation
  • Learned the difference between local, state and National Register landmarks
  • Studied the way landmark designation is used in the management of Civic Center Park, the only regional park currently designated in a local historic district

The group also researched historic park management strategies across the country. This information is available on Historic Denver’s website at http://www.historicdenver.org/programs/city-park

Historic Denver will present background on City Park, information about designation, and more detail on the committee’s exploratory work at an initial community meeting in late February. Our intention for this meeting is to provide the community with the information about the group’s work so far and to create an opportunity for engagement and dialogue.

Please direct questions and comments to Historic Denver: info@historicdenver.org or (303) 534-5288.

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About that South Face….

By Greg Davis, City Park Alliance

On December 15th, Denver City Council unanimously approved Council Bill 0941 (CB-14-0941) granting a certificate of designation to operate the waste to energy system at the Denver Zoo. The topic of the waste to energy system has been a hot button with local neighbors who are concerned about the aesthetic of the new building housing the waste gasification system.

Denver Zoo has committed to making improvements to the south façade and will be gathering public comment on the matter. However, why wait for this formal process to start. Let’s get some public input now to support this process now.

Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez had an interesting perspective during the December 15th Council Session noting that the south side of the zoo begs for public art. He framed his comment by stating that “I’m not talking about the horse, from D.I.A., but kind of I am.” I can really appreciate that sentiment. My interpretation of that statement is maybe the horse is not a design to replicate, but City Park could be a great place to incorporate a similarly iconic work of art. That said, maybe what City Park needs is something less historic or subdued. …Or maybe we can find that perfect blend of historic, natural, inspiring, and iconic.

Take a look at the following pictures for reference, leave a comment in the blog, and let your voice be heard!

Waste to energy and Elephant Passage facadeThe current aesthetic of Elephant Passage and the Waste to Energy building. Denver Zoo has committed resources to improving this aesthetic and will be accepting public comment.


painting2 City Park advocate Georgia Garnsey provided these pictures of an example of how public art can be used to enhance otherwise blank building spaces.

painting



Picture1 Picture2

Andrew Rowan, Government Affairs & Special Projects Manager for the Denver Zoological Foundation, provided these renderings noting how the current perimeter fence could be beautified.


Zoo W2E facade

This rendering provided by the Denver Zoo notes a potential aesthetic solution to part of the Waste to Energy (W2E) Building. This idea would carry the architectural steel idea used as a topper for the perimeter fence into the “windows” of the W2E building and beautify the small portion of the fence between Gate 15 and the building.


Your opinion matters.  What do you think should be done to improve the look of the W2E building and associated Toyota Elephant Passage complex as it abuts City Park?

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Waste to Energy System Approved… With an Asterisk

By Greg Davis, City Park Alliance

Denver City Council unanimously approved Council Bill 0941 (CB-14-0941) on Monday, December 15th granting a certificate of designation to operate a waste to energy system at the Denver Zoo. As part of that vote, council members recognized the need for a City Park Task Force moving forward.

A group of neighbors, led by the Registered Neighborhood Organization, City Park Friends and Neighbors (CPFAN), attended the Denver City Council meeting on December 15th to express their concern over the certificate of designation for the Denver Zoo Waste to Energy System. Representatives from CPFAN made several well-stated points related to land use, zoning, and public safety. The one overarching theme was that the setting and visual aesthetic of the Waste to Energy building in City Park was not specifically considered in the public process.

IMG_1671The current aesthetic of the Waste to Energy Building as it
abuts Duck Lake leaves something to be desired.

The discussion at the City Council proceedings did not focus on the validity of the waste to energy concept. While concerns were raised about safety risks related to the gasification process, the main topic was that of protection of the park aesthetic. Louis Plachowski, speaking on behalf of CPFAN, articulated this by noting that the waste to energy system was presented to the public as a concept, but that public notification did not focus on the scale and orientation of the structure within City Park. He further stated that the concept should have been presented to the public as a part of a neighborhood plan as it is a modification to City Park. A recent transplant from New York City, Mr. Plachowski followed by suggesting that such an oversight in design would never have happened in Central Park, and Denver can do better. Resident Hank Bootz, reiterated this sentiment by noting that the Denver Zoo and City Park are in a partnership, and the installation and aesthetics of new structures should have been more specifically considered in a public process. Nancy Francis, a resident living near the park, followed with a discussion of whether gasification was an appropriate industrial land use in City Park and that approval of an industrial use with limited oversight was not appropriate. Supporting this concept of limited oversight, she stated that although the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment did public notice the air emissions permit, the CPHDE cannot deny a permit based on land use, and local decisions on land use should have been better presented to the public on a local level.

One thing that could be gleaned from the unanimous approving vote of the City Council was that the December 15th session was not the time and place to debate the construction of the Waste to Energy facility. The building was already constructed and the bill in question determined whether to provide a certificate of designation approving the operation of the industrial facility. Both the Denver Zoo and the Denver Department of Environmental Health made specific arguments supporting that all of the legal obligations for permitting and public notice were met. A legal determination followed that the land use was appropriate. The Denver Charter prescribes that city parks can only be used for “park uses,” and the gasification system qualifies as a “park use” as the system will only use waste generated within the park and will not accept secondary waste.

Given that all of the legal obligations for public notice were met, it was obvious that this was going to be a yes vote. There is no doubt that this is an exciting and innovative facility. Denver Zoo CEO Shannon Block noted how the facility, which will convert sustainable energy from waste through biomass gasification, will help reach the goal of maintaining a zero waste zoo by 2025. Councilman Brooks recognized the potential to reduce 1.5 million pounds of waste per year. Councilwoman Shepherd noted how Denver’s goal of reducing hauled waste by 20% could practically be met with this one facility. Given the immense environmental benefit and innovative nature of the project, it was sure to pass. However, for the most part, neighborhood commenters were not there to publicly comment on the concept of waste gasification. They were there because they felt shortchanged by the public process whereby the citing, access, and location of the gasification building were not properly vetted. To this claim, City Council members noted that RNOs were informed, obligations for public notifications were met, and the commenters missed their chance to speak on topics related to the building’s design.

Support with an Asterisk … A City Park Task Force

The concerns raised about process and aesthetic did not impact the Council’s vote, however, they were recognized. When providing his vote, Councilman Brooks from District 8 noted that his support for the bill was “support with an asterisk.” In a narrative where he described that he felt neighbors had “been pushed aside,” Councilman Brooks noted that we need to think of things more holistically. He expressed his broad support for the creation of a City Park Task force to address concerns with City Park more proactively. This was in line with public commenters, who all expressed a need for a City Park Task Force or Advisory Council, similar to the Denver Botanic Gardens Neighborhood Advisory Committee. Councilman Brooks also described a City Park Task Force from 1997 as a potential model moving forward. This sentiment was echoed by several Council Representatives as the public comment in response to the bill was not lost on them. Councilwoman Shepherd expressed her support for this solution as a method to more effectively “get at the back end.” She then proceeded to question Denver Zoo CEO Shannon Block to reaffirm the Zoo’s commitment to the community to improve the aesthetic of the Zoo’s south side. Ms. Block did make such commitments noting that the Denver Zoo would both commit significant financial resources and engage the public in the process to improve the aesthetics of the zoo facilities adjacent to Duck Lake.

It was clear that neighbors and the CPFAN neighborhood association were not happy with the citing and visual integration of the waste to energy system within historic City Park. While they may not have received their specific desired outcome, the request to create a neighborhood advisory committee was granted. A City Park Task Force or Advisory Council could be a solution to “get at the back end” and address the finer details as they relate to City Park. If anything could be gleaned from this process, it is that the Denver City Council is listening, and now is the time to engage neighbors on how to better plan, develop, and preserve City Park. City Park Alliance is excited about any efforts to preserve the historic park experience at City Park and more thoughtfully evaluate projects in the park. We look forward to whatever role we play in such an advisory committee or task force. With the pending improvements to the aesthetic of the Denver Zoo’s southern border with City Park, it seems that there is no need to search for that first topic for discussion.

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Tree Climbers Rescue Dummy in Competition at Denver City Park

DSC_4605 - Version 2 

Read the Denver Post story
by Mike Fernandez, City Park Alliance

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