As the paper went to press, the Stapleton Development Corporation (SDC) and the Park Creek Metro District (PCMD) were conferring about the Stapleton Parks consultant position. Please refer to the chart for an explanation of the entities cited in this article.
There is widespread agreement that Stapleton has great parks, and a lot of them—1116 acres of parks and open space, almost 25% of the development. These parks have been designed and built with three-way input: from Forest City, the City of Denver and from representatives of the community through advisory boards and the Stapleton Development Corporation. Participants in any big, complicated 25-year project will have differing viewpoints. In this project, the community members believe that having the differing viewpoints working together has ultimately strengthened the final outcome.
Now the community advisory groups are concerned that the successful three-way balance has changed. The President of Park Creek Metro District, King Harris, recently made an executive decision that due to the budget problems at Stapleton Development Corporation (SDC), the parks consultant position held by Dennis Piper would be terminated and the funds should be reallocated to cover the cost of SDC staff positions.
The community advisory groups say the parks consultant has used his expertise to interpret plans and budgets at a stage when there is still time for changes and has informed community groups when there was a question whether plans followed the principles of the Stapleton Development Plan (the Green Book). The consensus of the Parks Advisory Group was that the community is currently reaping big benefits from the relatively small cost of the consultant position.
The Parks Advisory Group (PAG) and the Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) acted immediately upon hearing the parks consultant position was terminated, sending requests to the Stapleton Development Corporation—made by unanimous agreement in both groups—asking SDC to support the continuance of the parks consultant position.
The chairs of both groups attended the SDC meeting Feb. 27 and spoke of the importance of the position. Community members in support of the parks lined the walls of the meeting room.
One of the community members, Dr. Patricia Olson, stood up to speak. “As a citizen I’ll put up one third of a year’s funding, so you’ll have at least four months to work through this. I as a citizen believe this is important and Stapleton would like to see these fabulous parks go forward in a very logical way. That’s my contribution as a citizen, if you’re interested.”
SDC board member Happy Haynes said, at the end of the board’s discussion, “We heard you loudly and clearly. We all agree the role is important to continue. We’re going to have to figure out how to get it done in as timely a fashion as we all can.”
King Harris, prior to the meeting, told the Front Porch he terminated the parks consultant position because he believes funding for SDC staff is higher priority than a parks consultant—and added he personally has the expertise to represent the community in parks development.
At the meeting Harris added, “It isn’t the lack of importance of the position that caused us to eliminate it. We don’t have unlimited funds. Something will need to be eliminated if we fund this position.”
Advisory group members say a big reason the parks consultant role is so important is because that person is the one with no other interest except to be sure trunk (regional) open space is developed following the principles of the Green Book.
Forest City signed on to carry out the vision in the Green Book, but as a publicly held company that took a big risk, they also have an obligation to their stockholders to make a profit. The finished parks and open space will be given to the city, and their parks experts contribute to the process, but they also have an obligation to the entire Denver parks system.
To better understand the parks consultant position, one needs to look back to 1997. The Stapleton Development Corporation at that time understood that developing over 1,000 acres of parkland to meet the vision of the Green Book was going to be an enormous undertaking—and the volunteers on the Stapleton Development Corporation didn’t have the expertise for such a task. Just as they understood they needed an experienced master developer to build the residential and commercial property, they also needed an experienced parks planner.
Piper, who had 20 years of experience as a parks planner and landscape architect in the National Parks system, was hired to be Director of Parks and Environment. Piper then participated in writing the Stapleton Parks Development Plan (the Blue Book).
By keeping abreast of the plans, he could advise the Stapleton Development Corporation (SDC) as they performed their role of watching over the development of the old airport land to be sure it followed the principles of the parks plan.
Piper worked as Director of Parks and Environment until 2008, when SDC ended the funding for that position for budgetary reasons and Park Creek Metro District (which receives TIF funds and fees from the developer to build parks) reduced his hours and paid him as a consultant. Forest City took over the role Piper had played in parks development.
Since 2008, Piper has continued to examine Stapleton parks plans and budgets and interpret them for PCMD, SDC and community oversight groups, pointing out possible areas of community concern, and devoting far more hours than his consulting fee pays for.
Through all the years of development, Piper has been meeting with the Parks Advisory Group (PAG) each month as they get updates from Forest City. Representatives from Denver Parks, Sand Creek, Bluff Lake, Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Aurora and SUN are some of the many interested people who come to these meetings regularly to stay apprised of Stapleton Parks development.
Immediately following the SDC meeting, Harris attended the PCMD meeting and told the board, “There is great angst about that (parks consultant) issue.”
We’ll have an update next month.
I have heard nothing from Stapleton Development Corporation regarding my offer, which I find somewhat odd. If this is "merely" a financial issue, I am wondering why they would not accept my offer and allow Mr. Piper to continue working on behalf of our community, parks and open spaces. Dr. Patricia Olson
As of today, March 3rd, I wait anxiously to hear if the ax falls this Friday, March 7th, the given date of termination of my contract as parks consultant to PCMD; or if 1) a 30 day extension is granted as requested by SDC acting general manager Tammi Holloway; and/or 2) SDC and PCMD are considering accepting Dr. Patricia Olson's offer to cover the cost of my position for the next four months,
No matter what the outcome, I pledge to continue working with the CAB on evaluating the Forest City Section 10 "Preferred Land Use Concept" until a review report is ready to be shared with Forest City and the City through their General Development Plan review process. This is the last frontier of the Stapleton redevelopment and deserves the best outcome possible that all parties can enthusiastically endorse.
Of course it is still my hope that I can continue to provide professional oversight of the remaining parks and open space development process. There are many challenges yet to overcome.