Routt County Commissioners table letter for $4 million grant over Brown Ranch regional park issue
The housing authority has proposed land in the county north of the Brown Ranch for the regional park that the city has insisted needs to be provided for annexation.
Steamboat Springs parks staff say land offered by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority on the north side of the Brown Ranch is better suited for a regional park, but there could be other hurdles to building a complex of sports fields in that location.
The parcel is beyond the Urban Growth Boundary and is not part of the land being considered for annexation, meaning building a regional park would need to go through Routt County’s planning process, not the city’s. While the use for a park is generally appropriate in this area per county standards, it would likely require a conditional use permit if it includes sports fields. That would require hearings at the planning commission and with the Routt County Commissioners.
At a meeting happening as the Brown Ranch Annexation Committee met Tuesday morning, Commissioners voted to table a letter of intent needed for a $4 million grant for Brown Ranch over the regional park issue. The vote came after Commissioner Sonja Macys said she was concerned that the concept of pushing a regional park onto county land had not been fully vetted and was not part of public outreach during Brown Ranch planning.
“I’m concerned about the fact that the county has invested $1 million into this project, I’m concerned about the fact that we have had a representative on the housing authority board negotiating in good faith, I’m concerned that we had hundreds of community members that attended Brown Ranch meetings over a year plus time and we now have a significantly game-changing proposal,” Macys said. “I do not see a well-lit ball field as a sustainable land use strategy in the county. … Ultimately this regional park concept in the county is a game-changing piece of the puzzle that in my opinion has not been adequately vetted.”
The regional park has been a sticking point through the annexation process, with the city insisting it needed 46 acres and the housing authority feeling it would swallow hundreds of units planned if provided. But the sides started to coalesce around the idea of a regional park outside of the urban growth boundary as a compromise. Before it was the location of a regional park, the land would have been designated open space for 20 years, after which the housing authority would be able to use it to build more housing if needed.
Commissioners voted unanimously to table the letter of intent until next week, though both commissioners Tim Corrigan and Tim Redmond voiced their hesitation to tie a grant application for the Brown Ranch to the regional park issue. The letter of intent is due on Aug. 18, allowing commissioners to discuss this and give approval to send the letter next week.
Corrigan said he feels the city requiring land for the regional park as a condition of annexation is unreasonable in general, no matter where it is located.
“I would argue that the requirement for a regional park facility on its own, regardless of its location is an inappropriate demand by the city,” Corrigan said. “Would we want to make our support of the grant application contingent upon the city removing the requirement for a regional park altogether?”
“I like the direction that you’re going,” Macys said. “We could table this to next week, we can have that conversation and we could come out with a better understanding of what we are actually supporting.”
Redmond said he had an issue with linking the grant and the regional park issue, but supported the tabling because they would still have time to approve the letter next week.
Down the street at the annexation committee meeting, several people, including Macys, spoke in public comment expressing concern over the proposed location of the regional park, citing impacts to wildlife specifically. Maps created during the Brown Ranch planning process show the area of the regional park is in a mule deer migration corridor, sand hill crane habitat, a Columbian sharp-tailed grouse production area and is partially in an elk production area.
“Migration paths are key for the mule deer to move to the most productive habitats, whether winter or summer,” said Larry Desjardin with Keep Routt Wild during public comment. “When we encroach on these areas, we develop pinch points that constrain and impede migrations, further impacting the survival rates of mule deer. Pinching closed these migration corridors is a key component to today’s declining success of mule deer. This proposal will further exasperate this problem.”
The city has reached out for comment from Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the regional park concept, but the agency was not able to supply comments by Tuesday’s meeting. Instead, CPW said it could provide its input by the end of the month. In his response, Area Wildlife Manager Kris Middledorf noted the mule deer migration corridor and grouse production areas being within Brown Ranch.
“In the case of Brown Ranch, CPW recognizes the need for housing in and around Steamboat Springs, there is likely little that can be done to avoid all impacts,” Middledorf wrote, saying CPW would provide specific comment by Aug. 31.
Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said Tuesday they would ask to see if that timeline could be shortened at all, while noting that CPW — like many agencies locally — is short-staffed. Council member Joella West noted they were kind of in a waiting game on the regional park proposal until they got input from CPW.
In her public comment, Macys told the committee that commissioners had tabled the letter and reminded them that while the committee may agree to a regional park, commissioners would likely have the ultimate say about whether it gets built.
“It is unclear to the county commissioners what consideration has been given to placing a regional park in the county,” Macys said. “It would be a conditional use if it included ball fields, meaning it would have the capacity to come not just through the planning commissioners, but also the county commissioners and there is no guarantee of success coming through that.”
Top Photo Caption: This map was created during the Brown Ranch planning process and represents known wildlife corridors and habitat within the Brown Ranch. (Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy)