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  • Dylan Anderson

Ballots due by 7 p.m. in historic vote to annex Brown Ranch into the city of Steamboat Springs

Nearly 4,400 ballots had been returned as of the end of the day Monday. Ballots can be cast at drop boxes behind the historic Routt County Courthouse or in Centennial Hall at 124 10th Street.

Just short of three years after the Yampa Valley Housing Authority purchased land long thought to be Steamboat Springs’ housing future with an anonymous donation, the city’s voters will decide Tuesday whether to adopt the meticulously crafted 2,264-unit Brown Ranch plan or to send it back to square one.

Nealy 4,400 ballots had been returned to the city as of the end of the day Monday, according to City Clerk Julie Franklin. That means about 43% of the more than 10,200 ballots sent to voters had been returned ahead of Election Day. In November’s election, just under 5,100 ballots were cast in the city’s 2I Ballot Measure allocating short-term rental revenue to Brown Ranch.

The question before Steamboat Springs voters now is whether to annex 420 acres of the Brown Ranch into the city in accordance with the Brown Ranch Annexation Agreement, a key step that needs to happen before Brown Ranch can be developed. That 36-page document was drafted over a nine-month negotiation between the city and Yampa Valley Housing Authority and outlines key details of how the Brown Ranch will be developed, what infrastructure is needed and who pays for what.

A ‘yes’ vote on the question would extend the city limits of Steamboat Springs to the West, allow for the construction of as many as 2,264 units in a phased development over 20 years and kickoff a project that could define the future of Ski Town, U.S.A.

A ‘no’ vote on the question would end the third attempt to annex this land into the city of Steamboat Springs since 2010 and force the Yampa Valley Housing Authority to reconsider its current plan for the Brown Ranch. While it would end the plan in its current iteration, a ‘no’ vote will not end talk of the Brown Ranch.

“If we are unsuccessful at the election, the conversation doesn’t stop,” said YVHA Executive Director Jason Peasley at a community presentation on Feb. 28. “We still own the property, we still have a housing crisis. … We’re going to re-engage the community and spend time listening once again.”

“This is an opportunity for feedback,” Peasley continued. “This is not something that the housing authority is going to abandon, this is our mission, this is what we do.”

Ballots need to be returned before 7 p.m. today to be counted. Postmarks do not count, so do not mail a ballot to the city at this point.


Brown Ranch: A Brief History

Land now known as the Brown Ranch has long been thought of as the natural place for growth near Steamboat Springs in various iterations of the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan. In 2010, an annexation attempt known as Steamboat 700 would have built 2,000 homes for roughly 4,700 residents, but it was sharply rejected by the electorate, failing by nearly 20 percentage points.

Nearly a decade later, part of this land was up for annexation again in a project known as West Steamboat Neighborhoods. At just over 190 acres and 450 total homes, West Steamboat Neighborhoods was a smaller project than Steamboat 700.

After Steamboat Springs City Council approved the annexation agreement for West Steamboat Neighborhoods, that too was petitioned to a citywide vote by residents. Unlike Steamboat 700, West Steamboat Neighborhoods was approved by voters with nearly 60% voting yes to the question of annexation.

While approved, the annexation of West Steamboat Neighborhoods would eventually fall apart when developer Brynn Grey failed to purchase the land by a November 2019 deadline. When that deadline passed, the terms of the annexation deal approved by voters were no longer valid and the project became a question mark.

Then in July 2021, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority announced it intended to make an offer on the Steamboat 700 property with funding from an anonymous. A month later, they closed on the property, purchasing it for $24 million with a donation from the still anonymous donor.

Planning started almost right away and by September 2021 YVHA had set up a 20-person steering committee to help guide the process. Through a 15-month outreach effort, YVHA says they heard from roughly a quarter of the population of Steamboat Springs.

In October 2022, YVHA rolled out the Brown Ranch Plan in a pair of public presentations depicting a phased development delivering a variety of units ranging from single-family homes to large-scale apartment complexes, a large portion of which would be for sale.

The plan was rolled out a month ahead of Steamboat Springs’ vote to impose a 9% tax on short-term rentals, a ballot question that required revenues be used for affordable and attainable housing and that specifically mentioned Brown Ranch. Voters approved this question by a wide margin, 62% for it to 38% against it.

The following January, Steamboat Springs City Council and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority started work on an annexation agreement, laying out the logistics of adding Brown Ranch to the city. The 36-page agreement was drafted by the Brown Ranch Annexation Committee, a group of two city council members, two YVHA board members, City Manager Gary Suiter and Peasley. These talks were led by third-party facilitator Jason Lacy, a former city council president.

Council approved the annexation agreement in a resolution on Oct. 10 that would have put final question of Brown Ranch in the hands of Steamboat voters. A week later — after a call from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis — Council member Joella West switched her vote and city council approved Brown Ranch annexation without sending it to a public vote.

As council worked to finalize the annexation agreement, it asked city voters to approve a ballot measure that allocated 75% of short-term rental tax revenue to YVHA for development at Brown Ranch. This measure, which references key unit deliver metrics at Brown Ranch, was approved by Steamboat voters with 55% in support and 45% opposing.

Shortly after the election, a group of citizens were able to get enough signatures to petition city council’s decision to approve the Brown Ranch annexation to a citywide vote. That special election is today, March 26.

Ballot question:

“Shall the City of Steamboat Springs (“City”) adopt Ordinance No. 2933 to annex approximately four hundred and twenty acres of property owned by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority (“YVHA”) and known as Brown Ranch for the purposes of developing affordable and attainable housing in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Annexation Agreement between the City and YVHA dated Oct. 17, 2023?

Top Photo Caption: An overhead view of the Brown Ranch. (Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy)

Not sure yet? Read The Bugle’s series Brown Ranch: Explained


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