About 45 minutes of public comment showed strong support for the project, with most commenters expressing that the most important thing for them was to get an annexation deal done.
Housing, Steamboat Springs’ lack of it and the impacts that shortage has on the community was the main focus of 45 minutes of public comment on Tuesday, bringing the Brown Ranch annexation conversation out of the weeds, if only for a moment.
Since the start of the annexation process in January, the focus of Brown Ranch discussions has been on key aspects of a deal and the issues that need to be hurdled to make the project work. Instead of focusing on the benefit additional affordable housing would provide the community, annexation talks have largely focused on mitigating the problems providing additional housing would likely spur.
A series of public comments expressing support for annexation served as a change of pace on Tuesday, bringing back to the surface the need for housing in Steamboat. The comments also differed from the sparse public comment received during annexation meetings, which has been largely in opposition to the project.
While there are still many important details of an annexation deal that need to be worked out, the vast majority of those speaking in public comment indicated the most important thing to them is that a deal is reached.
Here is a sampling of public comments from Tuesday:
“The city is dependent on sales tax revenue. … The people that generate that sales tax revenue, the workers, are low and moderate-income,” said resident Andy Warhover. “You will not have sales tax revenue to worry about if we can’t get affordable housing.”
“As an employer at LiftUp, 13 of our staff commute from out of the area due to the lack of affordable housing in Steamboat. … Five of our employees have had to move away from the area in the last year because they couldn’t find a place to rent,” said Sue Fegelein, executive director of LiftUp. “Our locals are struggling to live here. Brown Ranch is an answer to that question. … What kind of a community do we want to be, what kind of legacy do you want to leave and what kind of staffing and opportunities do we want to have for people to live in our community.”
“Our workforce is the backbone of this community and they are not just employees, they are families that deserve a place to call home,” said Irene Avitia, chair of the Latinx Alliance. “The annexation of Brown Ranch is a unique opportunity to address the pressing issues of housing affordability, ensuring that our workers can live and thrive in our community.”
“Our educators are suffering, our community is suffering and our kids are suffering,” said a Strawberry Park educator who identified herself as Alison. “I know many coworkers who midyear have been pushed out of their housing and have to fight the hard battle of if they are going to continue to support their classroom. I’ve had coworkers with multiple kids kicked out of their homes mid-school year, as well as our students who live with multiple families in one house just so they can keep a safe house over their head.”
“Young people and families who make up the core of our workforce are leaving the community because they are unable to find housing. The rental pool is becoming smaller and more expensive, purchasing a home is out of reach for many and the stress and uncertainty of housing is affecting the mental and social health of our citizens,” said Angelica Salinas, who works as membership manager for the Steamboat Chamber. “Our community must be a place where you can live, work, raise a family, start a business and retire. My hope is that young families and people can envision a future here for themselves, that so many of you were once able to envision for yourselves.”
“One of the foundational building blocks that you have been hearing tonight of our community is the ability of our residents to live and work in the same place,” said Megan Moore-Kemp, who works for Yampa Valley Electric Association. “If we are to continue this legacy of working people living in our town, we must find a way to invest in it. I strongly urge our community to invest in Brown Ranch for the sake of itself.”
“Many of us see Brown Ranch and other housing authority developments as literally the last best hope for some people and right now that hope is in short supply,” said Mark Fitzgerald, executive director of local nonprofit Better Tomorrow. “We were lucky enough in the last year to attract an employee from Colorado Springs who relocated when she lucked into a great apartment off Walton Creek Road. Due to cost of living, she left after a year of great service to this community. We are all at a loss for her departure and we should be ashamed that in this vibrant community, we are still somehow not able to house the people on whom we so desperately depend. … How many people who dedicate themselves to Steamboat can’t afford to live here?”
“Hospice care doesn’t have enough nurses, dentists don’t have enough hygienists, there aren’t enough paraprofessionals or teachers at our schools," said Madeline Landgren, adult program director at Horizons Specialized Services. "These are vital services and they impact the children and people in our community in other ways where we see rising cases of abuse and neglect due to lack of housing, lack of daycare because there are no providers and lack of other services.”
“The severe and quickly worsening lack of affordable housing is the biggest and nearly sole reason that businesses like mine, our local schools, our police force and so many others are having trouble hiring and also retaining their current employees,” said Andrew Beckler, founder of Steamboat-based Grass Sticks. “Steamboat is quickly becoming a place where only incredibly wealthy people can live. I desperately hope that you can all can work together to make Brown Ranch happen, so that Steamboat can continue to be an economically diverse community. … I am worried we are on the verge of completely losing that.”
“While we certainly appreciated the challenges council must consider, the (Steamboat Springs School) District strongly supports Brown Ranch,” said Stephanie Juneau, finance and operations director for Steamboat schools. “Attracting and retaining staff ranging from custodians to classroom teachers largely relies on employees finding a suitable place to live within the community in which they live.”
All but three of the public comments given on Tuesday showed support for the Brown Ranch. One commenter shared that the Routt County Republicans passed a resolution compelling council to put Brown Ranch on the ballot while another expressed fears over water availability amid the Colorado River water crisis.
“I want the housing authority to be successful, I am fearful for them,” said Jim Engelken, a resident who has been attending annexation committee meetings and also expressed uncertainly about the Brown Ranch. “People understand the money part. There is too many gaps here, there is too few answers. … I fear despite what you are seeing tonight and the great amount of support for this, that there is a greater amount of fear over the size (and) the impacts to quality of life, especially on our roads. … Good luck you guys, but I fear you are going to fail.”
At the close of Tuesday’s meeting, Council member Dakotah McGinlay said she had reached out to a lot of people to get their thoughts on Brown Ranch annexation prior to the meeting as well.
“Half of them don’t live here anymore,” McGinlay said. “That’s just become a common thing where you might not even feel anything when I say that to you, but it impacts me deeply to know that so many of my friends and people that I care about that are benefiting our community in so many ways are not even here to even have a voice.”
Top Photo Caption: Dozens gathered in Centennial Hall on Tuesday for a special council meeting on Brown Ranch Annexation. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)