Steamboat Council waffles, delays decision on whether to buy 187 acres of parkland near Brown Ranch
At the price of $5.25 million, the land would allow the city to protect key riparian areas along Slate Creek, build a regional park and have a third parcel for future use.
Steamboat Springs City Council delayed a decision on whether to allocate $5.25 million to purchase 187 acres of land that would be used for a regional park and open space on Tuesday night.
The land, currently owned by Slate Creek LLC and Eric James Conner, is between the Bob Adams Airport and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s Brown Ranch and would likely be divided into three distinct parcels.
About 95 acres on the project's south end would be designated open space, as it surrounds part of Slate Creek the city has long wanted to protect. That leaves two roughly 46-acre parcels, one that could be used for a regional park and another that could serve another future city use.
But the proposal to purchase the land was not met with clear support from city council, with members questioning the purchase price, whether this was a good use of limited funds compared to other projects and whether now was the time to buy the land when it likely won’t be developed any time soon.
“I do not want to jeopardize all the other projects that we have in our capital fund right now,” said Council member Michael Buccino. “Transit housing, More Ranch, the different things that we have in our (capital improvements budget). I just can’t fiscally at all buy this piece of property that is going to sit vacant for so long.”
“I think this does seem like a really great opportunity and a little convenient how it popped up right as we were searching for a place to call a regional park,” Council member Dakotah McGinlay said. “But I think we need to set aside this money for housing or the current housing projects in our (capital improvements plan) that we could have being built next year.”
City Council President Robin Crossan said she supported the land purchase, as it could serve multiple purposes even if the vision for the parcel takes some time to come to fruition.
“When you have the opportunity to buy land, you buy it because you might not ever have that again,” Crossan said. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t touch it for 20 years, you buy it because you’ll never get it back. … When the opportunity is gone, it’s gone.”
Council agreed to table the decision to its Oct. 10 meeting. The land acquisition and corresponding supplemental budget allocation each require two readings before being approved.
The concept of purchasing land for a regional park came out of Brown Ranch annexation talks, as the city was initially requiring YVHA to provide 46 acres for a regional park. The city dropped that request last month as it said it was pursuing other opportunities for parkland.
If Council decides to purchase the park, the city has the money to purchase the land, it is more of a question of where it comes from.
City staff recommended that Council move forward with the purchase of the property and allocate $1.7 million worth of Short-Term Rental Tax revenues to help pay for it. (This would be the first use of STR tax revenue.) The rest of the $5.25 million (about $3.6 million) would come out of the city’s general fund.
Another option would be to buy the park using solely general fund revenues and the third option is to not purchase the property at all.
City Finance Director Kim Weber said using STR revenues would allow the city to move the same amount of general fund revenues to fund other capital projects in the city’s capital improvements plan. If solely funded from the general fund, Weber said it could hamper the prospects of the city’s two housing efforts. One of those projects is dormitory housing for transit and parks workers and the other is the More Ranch Community Housing project in partnership with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Weber said Accommodations Tax revenues could not be used on the purchase of land under the current language for that funding. This tax is on the ballot this fall, with the question extending what the funding could be used for to include such a land purchase.
The STR revenues could be used for the purchase of this land under a couple of rationales. First, city plans call for another regional park as west Steamboat grows, meaning the park is technically part of the area’s housing infrastructure, an allowable use in last year’s ballot question. Another rationale is that the purchase would give the city land that could potentially be used for housing in the future.
“This would be a wonderful piece of property for the city to own,” said Council member Joella West. “But like many wonderful things that we all could own, this might not be the time to spend that.”
A concern for Buccino was the purchase price, a point raised by local engineer and surveyor Walter Magill during public comment as well. According to records from the Routt County Assessor’s Office, the same parcel was sold in 2019 for $600,000, far below the current $5.25 million price tag. An appraisal will be conducted on the property before any deal would close.
“That’s just a lot of money to sit idle when we have so many other projects to do,” Buccino said.
Council will consider the purchase again on Oct. 10.
Top Photo Caption: The parcel the city is looking to buy is designated in three colored shapes, with the red triangle being the 95 acres of open space and the two 46-acre trapezoids being potential regional park sites. (City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy)