The nonprofit Friends of Denver Parks is asking the Colorado Court of Appeals for a temporary injunction to prevent the destruction of Hampden Heights North Park while the court reviews the appeal, the group’s attorney announced Sunday, Oct. 6.
Friends of Denver Parks allege irreparable harm if the court fails to act. Without an injunction, 11 acres of protected park land will be permanently destroyed, the group’s pro bono attorney, John Case, wrote in his Oct. 4 motion.
Even though the transfer is contested in Denver District Court and the Court of Appeals, Denver Public Schools has already started extermination of prairie dogs in the park. The school district, the city and the city clerk are named in the lawsuit.
Testimony this summer attested to the importance of the prairie dogs to the ecosystem. It also contained expert testimony about the loss of rare seed stocks of native grasses along with habitat for numerous species of Denver wildlife.
Supporters of the nonprofit have tried to stop a transfer of the park land to Denver Public Schools. They say it violates Denver’s charter, which mandates a vote. In a quick claim deed, Denver transferred half of Hampden Heights Park to the school district in exchange for a downtown building.
The ordinances allowing the rezoning of park land are unprecedented and therefore legislative, the group argues. The charter also mandates that park land cannot be sold without a vote of the people.
Denver Public Schools set traps to begin the extermination of prairie dogs in the park starting on Sept. 24. The weekly newspaper Westword reported the move as, “Prairie dog colony being eradicated at site of planned ‘nature’ school.”
The group’s pro bono attorney, John Case, argues that the park has long been a park by common law dedication. In 2007, Denver Parks and Recreation designated the park as part of a 90-acre natural area that includes adjacent Hentzell Park and Babi Yar Park.
By the July deadline, supporters of the group presented city Clark Debra Johnson with petitions supporting a referendum, only to be turned away. The nonprofit exceeded the 6,129 signatures necessary to put the issue of the sale to a vote. Johnson contends that the decision to trade the park land with the school district was administrative and beyond the scope of a public ballot.