Steamboat City Council passed the first reading of Brown Ranch annexation on Tuesday in a motion that spurs June Special Election.
The question of whether to annex the Brown Ranch into the city limits of Steamboat Springs will be decided in a public vote, city council decided on Tuesday, a move that will delay when the first units at the development will be available.
In a 4-3 vote, a majority of Council President Robin Crossan and council members Joella West, Heather Sloop and Ed Briones voted to approve the agreement and delay implementation until the voters weigh in.
“We’re a few steps away from getting this right,” Crossan said. “Tonight, we’re one step away from getting it wrong.”
“I’m proud of the annexation agreement … I am very happy with the document,” West said. “I am not happy with the actual solution of how this project gets financed. … My preference at this point is to say we have done everything we can do, here is what the project looks like right now. You the citizens of Steamboat deserve the ability to vote this up or down. It’s your future.” Unless there are significant changes on the second reading next week, Steamboat voters likely wouldn’t be asked about Brown Ranch annexation until June 25. The time between now and June 25 is roughly the same amount of time it has taken the city and Yampa Valley Housing Authority to come to an annexation agreement – about 8 months. Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley said after the meeting that the extended delay ahead of a vote means the timeline for unit delivery will also be stalled, making the target of the end of 2026 to deliver the first units no longer attainable.
The three dissenters, Council members Michael Buccino, Gail Garey and Dakotah McGinlay, each felt annexation did not need to be referred to voters, noting that a city-wide vote would miss many of Steamboat’s workers who are forced to live out of town because of the lack of housing.
“Over 2,000 of our workforce is commuting every day to Steamboat and they won’t have a vote on this if it goes to referendum,” McGinlay said.
“This town is losing the people we want to be part of this community,” Buccino said. “What we do know right now is we are losing our workforce and without a workforce, we are going to lose this economy.”
According to data from the Colorado Futures Center, Steamboat Springs has lost 1,000 workers since 2010 and residents age 25 to 45 are disappearing the fastest. A housing needs analysis conducted by the housing authority found Steamboat needs 1,400 units now and more than 2,200 by 2040 to meet the demands of local businesses.
The decision to refer annexation comes as public comments asking for just that have been frequent in meetings and emails to council members. Whether council referred the question or not may not have mattered much anyway, as some of those public comments have indicated that if council did not refer the question, they would get the signatures needed to force a vote.
“I’m 90%-95% sure this will go to a vote regardless,” City Manager Gary Suiter said as he recommended council send the question to voters. “I think the residents deserve to have a voice on this issue.”
Peasley said they supported council’s decision to refer annexation to voters. At its September meeting, the YVHA Board of Directors voted to support council’s decision on the matter, whether they wanted to refer the question to voters or not. Still, Peasley said the timeline was confusing.
“I definitely support the council’s decision to send it to the voters but I am confused on the timing,” Peasley said. “It’s what Oct. 10. Referring it to June 25? It’s not the expediency that this issue really deserves. I get that the city wants to save a couple thousand dollars, but to me this is much more important than saving a little bit of money.”
The delay is because council is eyeing the June 25 Colorado Primary Election to coordinate with the Routt County Clerk and Recorder’s Office for a special election. This will save the city money and put less demands on city staff, who would have to put on a special election of their own if the election wasn’t coordinated with the county.
But Council’s decision to wait will also mean the timeline to deliver the first units at the Brown Ranch by the end of 2026 is no longer realistic, even if annexation is approved by voters.
“It just pushes it out another year, so we are another year away from being able to deliver the housing people need,” Peasley said. “How can we invest money in a property to advance it if we don’t know if it is going to be approved or not? … Because we believe (the vote) is going to be successful, we want that sooner so we can get to work.”
If the city wanted to hold the election sooner, City Attorney Dan Foote said city staff would still need at least three months, and ideally, they would have four. If the city did opt to coordinate with Routt County for the June 25 election, the city could save “tens of thousands of dollars.” The last coordinated election cost the city about $16,000, compared to an estimated $60,000 for the city to run its own special election, Foote said.
Following the meeting, some members of council who supported referring the question to voters said the savings were not insignificant. They also said a June election would give city staff more time to try to close the capital funding gap, which stands at about $52 million over the buildout of the project. This money is part of the city’s share of infrastructure projects like U.S. Highway 40 upgrades and new parks, among others. The annexation agreement allows the city to deny building permits and halt buildout if it doesn’t have the funding for these upgrades.
“That’s giving staff and everybody more time to try to figure out the gap to make it work,” Crossan said.
Sloop said the additional time would allow time for an education campaign ahead of a vote and separate the issue of annexation from the ballot question that will be considered next month. That measure, 2I on the ballot, would allocate 75% of short-term rental tax revenues to the Brown Ranch for the life of the tax, a move that locks in the current 9% rate. That question includes performance metrics for the housing authority that if not met, allow council to reduce or end STR funding for Brown Ranch.
“I think that (voters) are still not understanding of what the agreement is,” Sloop said. “Hopefully in six months, there would be a hell of an education campaign to say this is what this is, this is what it means — here’s why you should support this. The longer time you give them, the more educated the public is.”
While the June 25 date did appear to be the favored option on council, it could still change on second reading next Tuesday.
“That’s something that can still get discussed… Brown Ranch may come back with something and say we’ll pay for half of it if we can do it sooner,” Crossan said.
Peasley said he was confident Steamboat voters would ultimately approve annexation.
“I’m happy we get to take it to the voters,” Peasley said. “When we get it approved by voters we have a mandate. We’re ready to roll”
Top Photo Caption: This graphic shows the first neighborhood that would be built at Brown Ranch. (Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy)