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Farewell, Freda

Those familiar with the Poundstone Amendment are often surprised to learn it actually takes its name from Freda Poundstone—a housewife turned conservative lobbyist—who was later also mayor of Greenwood Village, among other notable accomplishments. Ms. Poundstone’s death on November 7th marks the closing of an era one might say. Coming to power in the early 1970s, during the blossoming of the women’s movement, Poundstone was at the forefront of change during a time when both Pat Schroeder was elected to Congress (being the first woman from Colorado to achieve this) and Dana Crawford was busy helping change our downtown landscape.

Poundstone’s legacy of course was her tenacious and vitriolic battle against big, bad Denver during the 1970s. Much like Dana Crawford was criticized for questioning the conventional wisdom in downtown urban renewal schemes i.e. as proposed by leading male politicians and power-brokers of the time, no one in the Denver establishment took Freda Poundstone seriously when she proposed amending the state constitution to prohibit the city from annexing suburban land to enable it to grow outward. She proved Denver wrong as voters across Colorado approved the amendment that now bears her name in November 1974. During later interviews on this issue, she almost waxed nostalgic on how fun it had been to go up against Denver and win one for the so-called little guy.

In reality, her amendment was more aimed at removing suburban Arapahoe and Jefferson Counties from any possibility of being included in Denver’s impending court-ordered busing scheme for desegregation purposes, which also began in the fall of 1974. But getting her amendment passed was no small feat. It required a state-wide organization and educational campaign to convince voters in all counties why they had an interest in stopping Denver from gobbling up surrounding counties.

We can thank the creation of the City and County of Denver in 1902-04 for the resulting Poundstone Amendment. Prior to that time, Denver was the county seat of Arapahoe County. In that sense, it was just another city and subject to the same annexation laws as any other city inside a county. For example, Aurora is a city that straddles three different counties. By becoming a city/county jurisdiction however, this made the annexation law as related to Denver a bit ambiguous. This change didn’t matter much for Denver, Jefferson, Adams or Arapahoe Counties for the first forty years of the 20th century as Denver made no annexations until 1941.

After the city broke away from Arapahoe County, it also absorbed other towns as well as large parcels of empty land that were adjacent to it. Over the ensuing forty years, the city grew within its boundaries which remained at 59 square miles. However, after the Depression, the city realized that future economic growth would occur outside its 1904 boundaries. The same law that created the City and County of Denver did not outline a clear provision of what would occur if the city decided to annex land in the future. Consequently, the city undertook annexations as if it were any other city in the state, even though its annexations resulted in a loss of county land for the other county—literally the land ceased to be in that county, school district, special district, water district, etc. With this problematic annexation policy, the city pursued an unprecedented expansion that continued unabated from 1941 until Christmas Day 1973. During that time, the city doubled in size, reaching nearly 120 square miles by winter 1973—with a resultant loss of 60 square miles from Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson Counties. Arapahoe County feared Denver was going to cut it in two as it continued to annex down the I-25 corridor toward County Line Road.

Each new annexation that Denver undertook increasingly angered the surrounding counties. Annexations were challenged in court, especially by Arapahoe County, but Denver managed to prevail in most cases throughout the 1950s and 1960s. However, by the early 1970s, Denver’s forays went deeper and deeper into suburban territory and began to alarm many suburban county officials and school administrators. More court challenges and further battles ensued with Denver. Jefferson County led the way in the 1970s, challenging nearly every one of Denver’s approximately 40 annexations in the southwestern metropolitan area. While the city continued fighting in the courts and continued annexing whatever land possible, its aggressive tactics drew the ire of Freda Poundstone. Through her successful campaign, she became a local legend for her efforts on behalf of angry suburban county commissioners to stop Denver’s annexations. Her one-woman campaign forever changed the landscape of metropolitan Denver politics.

Tune in next time for a discussion on the legacy of the Poundstone Amendment in Denver.

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2 Comments

  1. Larry says:

    I’m not too sure which is better. A core city surrounded by lots of Balkanized suburbs; or a too large central city usurping power from the surrounding communities. I imagine there are good and bad examples of both around the world. But, to continue the story above:

    … Freda Poundstone went on to become the mayor of Greenwood Village which at some point during or after her tenure established truly onerous policy of aggressively annexing only the retail and commercial land (i.e tax base) in Arapahoe County. To avoid the new residential only tax burden placed on the remaining constituency of Arapahoe County, the city of Centennial was created wrapping a line of incorporation around GV. This locked Greenwood Village out from annexing any more land. If I understand the Poundstone Amendment (which I may not), this was the very same tool that Poundstone used to stop Denver in 1973.

  2. Mark B says:

    Nice obituary/history, Shawn. While I’m no fan of the Poundstone Amendment, I really admire what Freda Poundstone did to fight the Currigan machine and DURA when they were cooking up the Skyline Project in 1967. Her reasoning was Libertarian, and mine would have been (had I been an adult at that time) more based on Jane Jacobs, but a 21st century desire to retroactively stop (via time travel, of course) the wrong-headed demolition of 27 blocks would have meshed nicely with her efforts to stop the project on economic/constitutional grounds.