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  • Dylan Anderson

Polis, CDOT ‘enthusiastically’ support Brown Ranch after email from agency official implies otherwise

CDOT wasn’t ready to provide a letter of support for a federal grant application last week, but will have another chance to endorse the city’s request for funds to plan a wider U.S. 40.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis still “fully and enthusiastically” supports the Brown Ranch, despite an email from a top Colorado Department of Transportation official sent last week saying the agency “did not fully support” key infrastructure needed for the development at the direction of the Governor’s office.

On Feb. 28, CDOT’s Region Three Transportation Director Jason Smith emailed the city of Steamboat Springs’ grants specialist to say the agency was not ready to provide a letter of support for a federal grant application due last week.

The grant, worth more than $18 million, would plan the widening of U.S. Highway 40 west of town, an improvement needed sooner if Brown Ranch is approved by voters later this month. Citing additional greenhouse gas emissions widening the highway would likely cause, Smith said the agency would need more information about how the project could mitigate “environmental consequences.”

“The message that we received from the Governor’s office is that they do not fully support this project in its current stage of conceptual development,” Smith wrote in the email. “Before they can definitively support this project, they would need more information/data/analyses on how it will mitigate those environmental consequences.”

But in response to questions from The Yampa Valley Bugle, the Governor’s Office used numerous adjectives to proclaim support for the Brown Ranch and Polis’ desire to help the project along where possible.

“Gov. Polis and CDOT fully and enthusiastically support the Brown Ranch housing development because it is an important part of the housing solution,” said Polis spokesperson Shelby Wieman in an email to The Bugle. “CDOT and the Administration look forward to working closely with local partners to efficiently identify the best options for transportation connectivity to make this project even more amazing and accessible and avoid barriers to needed housing by streamlining and accelerating infrastructure access approvals.”

Smith's email was described as a “yellow flag” on Tuesday night by City Manager Gary Suiter when he updated City Council. Suiter said he had spoken with the city’s legislative liaison at CDOT before the meeting who explained there had been a “misunderstanding or miscommunication,” while reiterating the same need for more information that Smith had mentioned in his email.

“She wanted to verify that there was a misunderstanding or miscommunication and did verify that they needed more information, data, analyses,” Suiter said. “She wanted us to know on behalf of CDOT that this is not a no and this is not a comment on the Brown Ranch development.”

Polis has expressed his support for the Brown Ranch since the day the Yampa Valley Housing Authority closed on the property in 2021 when he made a stop in Steamboat to see the land for himself. Polis also made a call to Council member Joella West ahead of the council’s approval of Brown Ranch annexation, a conversation she said contributed to her vote to support annexation.

“The Governor has passionately and closely followed this important housing opportunity since he visited the land where these homes will be built with Sen. Dylan Roberts and local officials,” Wieman said in the email. “We fully support efforts to reduce housing costs across the state including at Brown Ranch and are working to ensure more Coloradans can find a home they can actually afford in all corners of Colorado.”

After Tuesday’s City Council meeting, West said the email from Smith was surprising because she has sat in meetings where CDOT said they were supportive of the city taking the lead on highway widening.

“It was specifically called so CDOT could meet with the housing authority,” West said of one meeting she attended with former City Council member Heather Sloop. “There was a very clear agreement in that room — now the Governor was not on that phone call — that the city would take that responsibility, so that’s what just made my jaw drop.”

West said the lack of an explanation for the apparent change in position from CDOT makes the idea that this is all a misunderstanding seem more plausible. Council President Gail Garey said the calls she had made about the email had implied the same.

“It was definitely a miscommunication so we are in the process of sorting it out,” Garey said. “There’s been some conversations that have reinforced that and we do have comment back that they are working with us to find a path forward.”  

Winnie DelliQuadri, the city’s special projects and intergovernmental services manager, said this is a federal grant, but that it needs CDOT’s support for it to have a chance at being awarded. While it is too late to add a letter of support to the application, DelliQuadri said the state will have another chance to give input on the application as it is reviewed.

“Ongoing conversations over the next month or two would be really important so that when the state does get to comment on the grant application, and their feedback is sought, at that time they are supportive,” DelliQuadri said.

As for providing the additional data the state is looking for, DelliQuadri said this information would be better understood after conducting the planning that the grant would help fund. Suiter said the same in his update.

“This was a planning grant, so there is a little bit of a chicken and egg thing going on here,” Suiter said. “My level of concern with this is moderate at this point, and I just think we need to wait and see how it plays out.”

Top Photo Caption: U.S. Highway 40 snakes along the south side of the Brown Ranch in this rendering showing neighborhood A. (Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy)


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