Brown Ranch Annexation Agreement approved by Steamboat Springs City Council
Approval of the agreement is an important step, but does not annex the land into the city limits.
In a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, Steamboat Springs City Council passed a resolution approving the Brown Ranch Annexation Agreement with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, a crucial — but not final — step on the path toward growing the boundaries of the city to include the proposed affordable housing development.
The resolution does not annex the Brown Ranch into the city. Instead, it approves the agreement that outlines the many provisions of annexation. For the Brown Ranch to be annexed, Council needs to approve two readings of an annexation ordinance, a process currently set for Oct. 10 and 17.
The agreement outlines how many units could be built, the infrastructure needed, how infrastructure costs are shared, how units will be made affordable and how services will be paid for, among other things. The agreement also outlines performance metrics for unit delivery at Brown Ranch — metrics that if missed would allow the city to reduce or remove funding for the project.
Council members Joella West, Michael Buccino, Gail Garey, Dakotah McGinlay and Ed Briones voted to approve the annexation agreement. West pondered what council would say to the housing authority and the locals desperate for housing should they not approve the agreement.
“What do we say to them? We understand that you have a problem but we don’t have enough money,” West asked her fellow council members. “That’s what we would say to them… I think we are reduced to that exact question.”
Council President Robin Crossan, who has served on the special committee crafting the annexation agreement, voted against the resolution. She was joined Council member Heather Sloop, who had expressed her intent to oppose the annexation agreement last week. Both expressed concern about the capital funding gap for portions of projects that the city is responsible to fund, a figure that stood at just over $52 million on Tuesday.
“I’m going to vote against this because until we come up with a funding gap mechanism, I can’t put this community at risk in the future,” Crossan said.
Despite Crossan and Sloop’s comments, the annexation agreement does not commit the city to build any of its share of offsite infrastructure, a point confirmed by City Attorney Dan Foote on Tuesday. While the agreement outlines a share of costs allocated to the city, the agreement contains what Foote called a non-appropriation clause, which means the city’s infrastructure requirements are subject to appropriation.
“The city does not guarantee a completion date for offsite improvements. Their completion is expressly conditioned on the appropriation of funds by the city to satisfy the city cost share,” the annexation agreement reads.
The annexation agreement also contains a provision that allows the city to halt building permits at Brown Ranch if the city is unable to fund its own share of needed infrastructure upgrades, such as widening U.S. Highway 40. Should key infrastructure upgrades not be completed in time for new units to come online, the council at that time would have the ability halt building permits until upgrades were completed. That council could also decide to allow the project to continue without the upgrades if desired.
The two most expensive infrastructure projects for the city are the two community parks planned at Brown Ranch, with the first park estimated to cost more than $30 million and the second more than $23 million.
Council members discussed pulling the cost of the first community park at Brown Ranch from the capital gap calculation, which would lower the gap to $22 million. While it would lower the gap to fund projects listed in the annexation agreement, the city would still intend to build the park and would need to pay for it someday.
In annexation talks, the thought has been the city portion of projects would be considered in a process similar to how Council already considers funding Capital Improvements Plan projects. That plan already includes some of the infrastructure needed for Brown Ranch, including several U.S. 40 widening projects. In total, there are more than $150 million in potential projects in the CIP that are currently unfunded.
Garey suggested the city could pursue a less robust park, one that resembled Rita Valentine Park more than Emerald Park. She suggested a less developed park could be built for much cheaper than the $1.35 million per acre the Parks and Recreation Department has currently estimated. (This number comes from the cost for Bear River Park.)
But Sloop stressed that as much as they fiddled with parks, the real discussion is a broader question about the Brown Ranch.
“It’s not about a park. This is about the next 50 years of Steamboat Springs,” Sloop said. “We got to get down to brass tacks of what we’re talking about here, and that’s a lot of people west of town. With or without a park, that’s not going to change your funding gap. That’s going to help make it look better, but it doesn’t look good.”
“We are here because we need to determine what kind of community we want to live in,” Garey said in response. “Do we want our young professionals? Do we want young families? … We are an aging community because young families, young professionals can’t afford to live in this community. This is an option that we have before us to solve that problem.”
While the resolution is approved, Council indicated that there could be further changes before annexation is approved. In voicing her support for the resolution, West said she would consider voting against the annexation ordinance unless there was “serious mitigation” of the city’s capital funding gap.
Also still unclear is whether Council will ultimately refer the question of annexation to voters. Crossan said a lack of direction on this from her fellow council members was another reason she didn’t support the resolution. Last week, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority board discussed the prospects of referring annexation to voters, where they eventually decided to support whatever Council felt was best.
Foote noted that Council opting to refer the question would give them more flexibility on when the special election to consider annexation would be held. If it is referred to the ballot via a petition from voters, the election would likely happen in February or March, Foote said.
The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission will consider the annexation ordinance at its meeting on Sept. 28. Council will then consider the first reading of an ordinance to officially annex the Brown Ranch on Oct. 10. If approved, the second reading would be heard on Oct. 17.
Top Photo Caption: The Yampa Valley Housing Authority's Brown Ranch. (Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy)