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  • Dylan Anderson

Parkland purchase hopes to help Steamboat Springs catch up to 30 years of growth

The 187-acre Slate Creek property will add open space and enough land for a new regional park, an issue that dominated Brown Ranch annexation talks last year.

Steamboat Springs City Council approved a deal to buy 187-acres of land near the city’s municipal airport on Tuesday, a purchase that hopes to help the city increase recreation access for residents as Ski Town, USA continues to see growth.


The land, which is adjacent to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s Brown Ranch property, was first discussed last fall as the city finalized the annexation agreement that voters would ultimately reject in March. As effort to craft a new Brown Ranch plan continues, the city’s parkland purchase may have solved one of the key issues discussed during annexation.  


“The whole reason this parcel came up was that it had the potential to provide space for a regional park when we were arguing and getting nowhere,” said Council member Joella West. “I’m assuming, and it’s a big assume, that at whatever point it is that we begin to once again discuss whatever Brown Ranch is going to be … the one thing that we will not have to beat each other up over again is a regional park.”


City council’s unanimous vote approved the first reading of the park deal on Tuesday. Council still needs to approve it on second reading.


City parks staff were able to negotiate a contract for the land that allows them two years to apply for grants to pay the $5.25 million purchase price before closing. Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said Tuesday they have a proforma of grants that could entirely cover the cost of the park, though they may not get them all.


The city is also generating roughly $2 million a year in Accommodations Tax, a revenue stream that can now be used for a property acquisition after voters approved updated spending language in November. If the city is unable to raise the money to pay for the parkland entirely, the city council at the time would decide whether to pay the difference or back out of the deal. The city will pay $200,000 in non-refundable earnest money.


“The city did very well negotiating and the sellers were willing and understanding of the city’s limitations to allow for a 24-month purchase agreement that gives us time to acquire grants,” Cosby said. “We’re excited with the movement forward tonight and are looking forward to providing the west end of Steamboat more services.”


While presenting the parkland deal to council, Cosby said buying land for parks typically happens when an urban growth boundary for a city expands. For Steamboat, that was last done in the 1990s.


“Typically, such a parkland acquisition process would be established and begin to be executed when the urban growth boundary is expanded for a community,” Cosby said. “The process and the acquisitions we are doing now should have happened then in an ideal world, so we are behind and we are playing catch up.”


West was quick to note that the purchase is still just land and residents are likely several years away from seeing construction on new park facilities. The conceptual plan for the park would use 46 acres for a regional park and designate more than 130 acres as open space. Cosby said more specific design elements of a regional park like the number of fields it may include probably wouldn’t start until the city closes on the land in two years.


In addition to regional park amenities, open space near Slate Creek intends to include a network of trails.


“There’s enormous wildlife corridors there,” West said, referencing a visit to the land she took with Parks staff. “We were just randomly standing there that morning and there was a small herd of antelope making its way through there. We walked a little way farther on and there was a full herd of elk. … It’s an important piece of property to preserve.”


Prior to going into executive session to discuss the parkland purchase and another opportunity to buy land near Copper Ridge largely for open space, West and council member Bryan Swintek had an eyebrow-raising exchange about a potential conflict of interest with the deal.


Swintek asked is anyone had a conflict of interest to disclose. When no one spoke up, Swintek asked if West specifically had a conflict, citing a statement she had made about a personal relationship with the property owner. West quickly asserted there was not a conflict and that she had disclosed the relationship to council previously.


“I’m slightly offended by this reaction,” Swintek said, adding that he would hope other council members would expect him to bring up such a relationship.


“I’m slightly offended by the question, so we’re even,” West retorted.


Council members had a brief discussion about the potential for conflict of interest and they each agreed that West’s personal relationship did not rise to that level. In a conversation on Wednesday, West said she had nothing to gain from the city buying the park.


“I do not want to start a habit of recusing ourselves from friendships that we have in a small town,” Council member Michael Buccino said. “That would be silly.”


Another opportunity near Copper Ridge


Parks staff also presented limited details on another opportunity to buy land on Tuesday, this time near Copper Ridge. This 1,000-acre parcel is not specifically identified but includes roughly 840 acres of open space and 160 acres that is currently a working ranch.


“This property was introduced to city staff in late spring by our partners with the Trust for Public Lands and the Nature Conservancy,” Cosby said. “The conceptual use of this property is for open space.”


The land connects to Bureau of Land Management land, it is a winter range area for a variety of wildlife and would eventually include a trail network. How the ranch would be utilized remains to be seen, though Cosby noted it could be an opportunity for partnerships with local nonprofits.


Top Photo Caption: Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation staff tour a parcel of land near Slate Creek. (City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy)

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