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  • Dylan Anderson

Brown Ranch Annexation Committee adds July meetings as key issues remain undecided

The two additional meetings were characterized as "if necessary" when added to the schedule and some aspects of the draft agreement will likely be left to be decided at the Steamboat Springs City Council level.

The three-hour meetings are now closer to five and those meetings now look to extend into July, but the Brown Ranch Annexation Committee has chipped away at an agreement that now has only some of the biggest questions left unanswered.


The committee agreed to add two more meetings to the schedule on Wednesday, though these were referred to by Yampa Valley Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley as being “if necessary” meetings, borrowing a term from sports for games scheduled that may not be needed in the end.


The draft annexation agreement as it currently stands is color-coded throughout, with green showing where there is very close agreement, yellow where they still need to work some things out and red where the city and housing authority will need to make some tough decisions.


What started as a document with large stretches of red and yellow text on Wednesday got greener as the meeting progressed. After the meeting ended, both sides of the table said they felt the meeting had been a productive one.


“I don’t think anything has moved in the opposite direction, from green to yellow or yellow to red,” Peasley said.


The biggest outstanding item is the fiscal impact analysis — how much will the Brown Ranch cost and how will it be paid for?


The analysis presented two weeks ago showed infrastructure costs for full buildout at $355 million and that the development would have a net negative impact on the city’s general fund. (All Steamboat residents have a net-negative impact on the city’s general fund, as tourism is the only reason Steamboat is able to fund itself almost exclusively on sales taxes.) Another update of that fiscal analysis is expected to be a large focus of the June 23 meeting.


The Yampa Valley Housing Authority Board met in an executive session for the first time about annexation on Thursday to discuss negotiation positions about the red items in the agreement. City council has added an executive session to its work session scheduled for Tuesday to do the same.


Some items may not be fully agreed upon by the committee before it wraps up its work. Those items would then go to the whole city council to iron out with the housing authority board, though it was noted Wednesday that a meeting between seven city council members and 15 YVHA board members may not be the most efficient. How exactly that will work is unclear.


There are three more town halls scheduled for residents to learn more about the agreement and provide comments on annexation. The first is slated for 5:30 p.m. on June 28 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center and will review where the agreement stands in terms of what is green, yellow and red after the June 23 meeting.


The final two town halls will be at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on July 27 at the same location and hopes to review the draft agreement that will be sent to council for consideration.


Other key outstanding items in the agreement include:


Use of the short-term rental tax

How much of Steamboat’s 9% tax on short-term rentals will be used to fund the Brown Ranch has not really been talked about in much detail by the committee so far. As presented two weeks ago, city staff have used an assumption that 50% of the tax would support the Brown Ranch. When presenting the initial draft of the annexation agreement to the city, the housing authority put use at a 75% level.


When discussed Wednesday, council member Joella West said the city’s 50% number wasn’t based on much, rather it was more an arbitrary starting point. West said she was looking forward to more information from the fiscal analysis to inform that discussion. Peasley said that may be a conversation that is left for the council level.


“When talk about the percentages to council, there is absolutely no anchor to that conversation,” West said. “75% sounds like just a huge amount of money for which council does not have any real understanding of how that may be spent. … If we have a better idea of where that money will flow and what you expect from other sources I think it will be a much more constructive conversation. I don’t know where it will come out, but it won’t be stuck on 50% because 50% is less than 75%.”


“Commensurate Service”

The phrase commensurate service is used throughout the annexation agreement as currently drafted. The housing authority has said throughout the process that they want future residents to enjoy the same level of service from the city as other residents, no more and no less. But the phrase lacks a clear definition and City Attorney Dan Foote said Wednesday that it needs to be revised.


Ideally, that revision would be tied to the current service levels the city is providing, but that isn’t clear as it could be argued current city residents don’t enjoy a commensurate level of service depending on where they live. For example, people who live on a school bus route get more frequent snowplowing than those who don’t. Residents who live on the mountain may have better access to transit than those living in parts other parts of the city.


Both sides agree some language around this should be in the agreement (this is an item in yellow), but exactly what that would be is still in the works.


The regional park

City parks plans call for new additions to the city at the scale of the Brown Ranch to add a 46-acre regional park, which represents about 11% of all the land being proposed for annexation. The city has not budged on this requirement so far in the annexation process, insisting that the development needs to provide this additional space, and when it was last discussed the two sides lacked any "common ground" on the issue.

The housing authority did not include a regional park in the Brown Ranch plan (the city asserts it should have) and argues providing that much space for a park could significantly reduce the amount of housing they will be able to provide over the next 20 years. The other parks space in the Brown Ranch is largely agreed to at this point.


Transit service

The Brown Ranch plan calls for transit service to run through the Brown Ranch which hopes to limit future resident’s need for a vehicle. Options presented early in the annexation process would add two bus lines that would pass through the Brown Ranch and connect westward neighborhoods of Steamboat II and Silver Spur to the city’s transit network.


The problem is that the city cannot maintain its current levels of service with the budget devoted to transit. On Tuesday, Transit Manager Jonathan Flint told council that even with a 10% increase to his budget for 2024, transit service may still need to be reduced due to rising costs.


The Housing Authority has held up transit as one of the most important pieces of the Brown Ranch plan and something that they repeatedly heard as a request from community members when they were crafting the plan.


If not that robust transit option, the city has proposed adding transit center near the entrance to the Brown Ranch and moving a stop currently made near Sleepy Bear Mobile Home Park to there instead, which wouldn’t add significant costs to the city. This could be paired with a smaller network similar to the current yellow zone to help Brown Ranch residents get to the future bus stop.


Fee in Lieu for water rights

The Brown Ranch does not have water rights to bring to the city and the city has a provision in the charter to charge a fee in lieu instead. Whether the city would charge that fee had not been clear until Wednesday, when the city’s negotiators said they were still working on what that fee would be. Public Works Director Jon Snyder said he was looking through several analyses about calculating that fee but had not yet shared that information with city council.


The city has adequate water resources identified to serve the Brown Ranch at full build out, though a new water treatment plant on the Elk River will eventually be needed. This item has been added to the June 23 meeting for further discussion.

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