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  • Dylan Anderson

Gov. Jared Polis’ support for Brown Ranch factored into Steamboat Council’s annexation decision

A letter from the Department of Local Affairs warned a delay to annexation could put $15 million in grant funding at risk.

In the 36 hours before casting the deciding vote to annex the Brown Ranch into the city of Steamboat Springs without a public vote, Council member Joella West got a call from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.


“When you pick up the phone, you say this doesn’t look like I’m going to know who it is and the voice on the other end of the line says, ‘Will you hold for Gov. Polis please,’” West recalled at Tuesday’s council meeting. “So I talked to the governor for a while about Brown Ranch and tried to explain not only what my concerns were, but the potential solutions that I hope we could all find.”


West said she got calls from other state officials as well including Sen. Dylan Roberts and officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation. West was the only member to say she received a call from Polis, though Sloop said a CDOT official did call her at the request of the governor. Council President Robin Crossan and member Ed Briones said they did not receive a call.


About 400 acres of the Brown Ranch is being annexed into the city. The number of units planned comes from a housing needs assessment that found Steamboat needs 1,400 units today and 2,262 by 2040 to support its workforce. If completed as planned, the Brown Ranch will eventually include 2,262 units targeting people who make between 30% and 250% Routt County’s area median income. Based on the current AMI, that means a single person making between $22,800 and nearly $190,000 a year could be eligible for a unit at Brown Ranch.


Polis has been a supporter of the Brown Ranch since day one. He was in Steamboat the day the Yampa Valley Housing Authority closed on the property where he said it was a strong candidate for state support.


During the flurry in the legislative session about Polis’ SB-213 housing bill, Steamboat pushed back against the legislation arguing it could negatively impact the Brown Ranch. At the time, Polis’ Office told Steamboat Pilot & Today he would “oppose any policy that would delay Brown Ranch and will make sure that any new laws make this important housing project easier and lower cost.”


In response to questions from The Yampa Valley Bugle following council’s decision Tuesday, Polis spokesperson Conor Cahill said the governor was “thrilled” Brown Ranch was moving forward.


“The governor supports efforts to increase opportunities for housing construction across the state including at Brown Ranch,” Cahill said via email. “Gov. Polis is working to ensure more Coloradans can find a home they can actually afford in all corners of Colorado. He also looks forward to helping Brown Ranch be able to fully participate in state funding however he can.”


West said that level of support from the governor is a key difference in this third rendition of the annexing the land west of town. The two previous attempts failed, the first when rejected by voters and the second when the developer failed to close a deal to buy the land.


“The Brown Ranch, as opposed to previous failures out there, is so important to our governor,” West said. “The whole point of this is, not only if this is successful we house all the people we’ve been talking about for years, we also become a model for what can be done.”


West explained that there were several factors that went into her decision to change he vote, including but not only the call from Polis. One key change from the first reading was an interpretation of how the city can spend short-term rental tax revenue. Previously it was believed the city’s share of key upgrades needed to U.S. Highway 40 could not be paid for with STR tax dollars, but City Attorney Dan Foote said Tuesday he now believed they could.


That change means the city could pay for its share of upgrades with the tax if revenues come in as expected. The change does not eliminate the capital gap, but the gap now largely impacts community parks and not key road upgrades.


“We’re beginning to address the issues of the funding gap. Not in a way I like — I don’t like it at all, but I don’t get to have everything I want either,” West said. “I’m prepared to say with a great sigh if we loose the parks that we believe the community at Brown Ranch reserves, but that’s the only way that we can in good conscience move forward with the project, so be it.”


Also part of West’s decision was the impacts a delay to annexation could have on opportunities to get $15 million in state grant funding. On Monday, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs Rick Garcia sent council a letter saying that if Brown Ranch did not “move forward expeditiously, the state funding will likely be redirected to other parts of the state.”


Garcia pointed to four different grant applications, three from the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and one from the city itself. If funded, these grants would help design and build the sewer system, build geothermal infrastructure and pay $4 million in water tap fees for new units at Brown Ranch. The city’s grant application is for a project to improve intersections on U.S. 40 west of town to support Brown Ranch and the proposed child care and housing project being worked on with Routt County and CDOT.


“DOLA cannot guarantee these funding opportunities (including lower match requirements and higher maximum awards) will be available if the project is delayed,” Garcia wrote. “This is why I and the governor encourage you to move forward with annexation approval as soon as possible, before year’s end.”


Council’s decision does not refer the question of annexation to Steamboat voters, but it could still be petitioned to a public vote. Opponents to the Brown Ranch have already indicated on social media they are pursuing a referendum petition.

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