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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City Park Alliance Meeting Minutes Available Online

In an effort to be more transparent to our stakeholders, we are now posting our quarterly board meeting agendas and notes online.

The meeting minutes and agenda from the August 22, 2014 quarterly board meeting of the City Park Alliance are available online now.   Come follow along to learn what we’re doing to support City Park.

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ChiveFest Update

A public meeting was held on July 30 regarding ChiveFest.  The meeting featured a presentation from Scotty Nichols, owner of All Phases Event Group, LLC, as well as representatives from “The Chive“.  Following the presentation, representatives from Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) were available to answer questions about the ChiveFest event.  DPR staff noted that if ChiveFest met the terms of the events based policy, then they would not discriminate and would issue a permit.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss extra steps that ChiveFest is putting in to place to make the event less impactful on the park and the community.  The presentation which outlines the impacts from ChiveFest provided by Scotty Nichols is attached here.  A community liaison will be available to speak with members of the community with questions/concerns about the event from Wednesday, August 13, through Sunday, August 17 at 303-681-7833.

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City Loop May Be Relocated to Paco Sanchez Park

From the Denver post online: “The design for a nearly $5 million futuristic type of playground was originally planned for a 13-acre piece of City Park. When nearby residents fought the proposal, Denver Parks and Recreation moved on and looked elsewhere. But the project wasn’t bagged entirely and park officials are now looking into building it at Paco Sanchez Park near the intersection of 12th Avenue and Knox Court.”  View the full article from the Denver Post.

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Chive Fest – Appropriate for City Park?

by Greg Davis, City Park Alliance

ChiveFestA music festival in City Park known as Chive Fest is garnering a lot of attention recently. This music festival proposed to take place on August 16th will host 7,500 people in an all-day event on the East Meadow of City Park.

Prior to the permits office approving the permit, City Park Friends and Neighbors urged City Park Alliance to sign a letter to the mayor opposing this event.  This letter strongly voices disapproval for the event based on concerns such as parking and noise.  City Park Alliance elected not to sign this letter and not to specifically oppose Chive Fest as the process is within the scope of the Admission Based Events Policy approved by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in 2010.  This policy gives the Manager of Denver Parks and Recreation authority to approve admission based events in City Park, Civic Center Park, Skyline Park, Central Park-Stapleton, Parkfield Park, and Ruby Hill Park.

We at City Park Alliance would like to like be proactive regarding the current and future implementation of the permitting policy for ticketed events at City Park.  Please consider attending a meeting with representatives from the City of Denver and the event producers of Chive Fest in the VIP room of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on Wednesday, July 30th from 6-7pm.

We also need the views presented by City Park Alliance to reflect all park users and not a vocal minority.  Please provide your thoughts using the following polls.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mile High Loop Running Trail Improvements

by Mike Fernandez, City Park Alliance

City Park Alliance partners with Denver Parks and Recreation on improvements as the trail is about to reopen.

On July 11, 2014, members of the City Park Alliance (CPA) board of directors met with City Park officials, to assess the trail and identify opportunities for CPA to support Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) efforts to restore, maintain, and improve the 5 kilometer running trail that winds its way through the environs of City Park.

CPA will put out a call for volunteers to join in trail work and discussions about trail enhancements, likely to take place in the fall.

loop_markerDuring the meeting at the park, CPA learned that there was no budget for maintenance included when the trail was constructed and that replacement of trail markers, destroyed by vandals, with like posts will cost about $1,700 each. Lessons learned: Replacing way-finding signage with markers that are more easily replaced is the way forward for this City Park feature.

 

Loop_fenceMore Good News: The orange fences adjacent to the Mile High Loop trail on the east side of the park will come down as soon as the new sod takes hold. Shortly after the meeting with DPR, the orange fences blocking access to the trail were reoriented to allow access to the trail during revegetation.  Very soon the Mile High Loop running trail will finally be open in its entirety–for the first time since museum construction began in September 2011.

 

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