Uptown residents fight for better park space along Park Avenue

Residents began calling one of the spaces 'No Name Park'

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When driving along Park Avenue, specifically along its historically designated portion between Colfax and East 20th avenues, it’s easy to ignore the triangles of land that flank either side of the street. But 20 parcels along Park Avenue make up what residents refer to as No Name Park. At nearly five acres when measured together, these plots were once larger parks before being bisected when the city finished the diagonal run of Park Avenue in 1893.

Very little has been done with them since.

“Uptown on the Hill is grateful for those triangular parks along Park Avenue, as they are a green respite in what is becoming a crowded neighborhood,” said Judy Trompeter, president of Uptown on the Hill Registered Neighborhood Organization, or RNO.

The city planted new trees over the past few years, which Trompeter said the community appreciates. But making the parks more than a place to drive through is what the RNO would like to see.

“We would like to see those parks be more active than passive,” she said.

Problems at No Name Square

Several members of the Uptown neighborhood have been trying to do just that – turn the parks into more active areas. However, residents say they worry the parks are becoming places where homeless people camp in adjacent alleys and use drugs.

“I’ve been aggressively harassed by people who frequent this park,” said Eric Dallimore, owner of Leon Gallery at 1112 E. 17th Ave., next to the largest of the two parks known locally as No Name Square.

Dallimore added that he’s heard residents give less savory names to the park, calling them urinals or other nicknames. It makes him sad to know that people think so lowly of the neighborhood park.

Some have “even dubbed it Drinking Park,” he said, “and it is a known meeting place for addicts.”

Dallimore, a longtime resident of the Uptown neighborhood in addition to being a business owner, says he’s witnessed dumpster fires and has found firearms, condoms and scores of used syringes in No Name Square. Often, the items apparently come from people who use the alleys to camp near the park.

Cmdr. Aaron Sanchez with District 6 of the Denver Police Department, which oversees the Uptown park spaces, said he attends several meetings a day about homeless issues in the area. Many people in the homeless community in Denver are dealing with a range of mental health issues, and officers have started to receive training on how to work with those people. Working with the homeless population has become more of a collaborative effort with several departments throughout the city government to deal with crime within the homeless community as well as helping individuals with mental health issues, Sanchez added.

“The homeless situation is bigger than the police department,” he said.

Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of parks and planning, said all the parcels have been designated park land by the city. Park rangers patrol the area to ensure individuals are not camping overnight in the parks, which is against city park rules. But if people are using the adjacent alleys to camp, the parks department has no control over those areas.

“If somebody’s in the alley, I don’t have any authority to tell people they cannot be in that alley,” he said.

Parks rangers make sure people have not built structures in the parks, and also carry brochures to give to the homeless to help inform them about different shelters and resources in Denver, Gilmore added.

Fighting for parks

Some residents, such as Jude Aiello, are trying to take action to bring the community back into the parks.

Aiello completed the Denver Urban Gardens’ (DUG) Master Community Gardener program. Part of the program requires students to volunteer 30 hours of “GiveBack” time, which is spent teaching others, using skills new graduates have learned, or helping with existing gardens.

“I thought it would be a no-brainer to donate this time to developing a new community garden in one of the triangle parks,” said Aiello.

Aiello and Dallimore worked together on the urban garden idea. The park already had water and a concrete slab perfect for a greenhouse. Dallimore wanted the garden to be a way to help the homeless population by teaching them to garden a few plots.

Aiello has also been working with the city, which is updating the master plan for east central neighborhoods in Denver, including Uptown, Capitol Hill and City Park. Within the East Central Plan for the city, Aiello hopes to have a master plan for the lots. The land is historically designated, so projects such as the greenhouse would still need approval through the Landmark Preservation Committee. But having a master plan in place is at least a step in the right direction.

“As you can see, many steps still to go with no guarantee that there would be approval for community gardens or any kinds of structures,” he said, “but at least it gives us a shot.”

Arlin Raedke, a retired member of the Uptown neighborhood, partnered with Dallimore and other community members to find other active uses for the parks.

While Dallimore concentrated on one park, Raedke identified best possible uses for 12 of the bisected-park areas: exercise equipment next to the fire station at 1616 Park Ave. West, rock gardens in smaller parks and a children’s playground in No Name Square, which is one of the larger parcels.

He went so far as to hire a local design firm to render mock-ups of what the parks could potentially look like if developed. But navigating several departments within the city has made things complicated, he said.

They aren’t giving up, but Raedke, Aiello, Dallimore and others said they have not received a definitive answer from the city regarding their plans. Each has been confronted with the complicated processes to alter historically designated parks.

Now that Denver voters have approved a .25 percent increase to the city sales tax for park projects, Dallimore is hoping neighbhorhood residents can revisit the idea of working witht the city. The sales tax is estimated to bring in more than $37 million toward park projects.

Although the city does not have plans for the parks right now, Cynthia Karvaski, a spokesperson for the parks department, said the Parks and Recreation department is conducting community outreach to decide how to use the new tax funds. Staff are also creating the frameworks for Game Plan for a Healthy City, she said. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/2Fl2KnD.

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