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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Springs voters will have final say on Brown Ranch annexation

Let Steamboat Vote petition committee says they have turned in more than 1,900 signatures to force a referendum on Brown Ranch Annexation.

Steamboat Springs appears to be headed for another vote about the Brown Ranch after petitioners say they have submitted more than 1,900 signatures to force a referendum on the annexation of the property into the city.

The signatures, which were due Friday, still need to be reviewed by the Steamboat Springs City Clerk’s Office over the next week to ensure signers are indeed registered electors of Steamboat Springs. Of the 1,900 signatures the Let Steamboat Vote campaign says they submitted, at least 1,133 of them need to be valid to spur an election.

In a press release, the Let Steamboat Vote petition committee said they had help from more than 50 volunteers to submit more than 60 petitions.

“Citizens and our committee will find an affordable housing plan that works for our community,” the committee wrote in the release. “This referendum achieves an important step by giving citizens a voice on whether the current plan is the right scale and optimum use of our housing dedicated funds.”

Assuming enough signatures are valid, the city will hold a special election about Brown Ranch in the coming months, which will be the third election called to decide the annexation of this same property.

The first in 2010 failed, with voters rejecting the then Steamboat 700 proposal 61% to 39%, with the annexation proposal failing to gain majority support from residents in any part of the city, with all precincts voting ‘no.’

In 2019, the annexation of the property — then called West Steamboat Neighborhoods — was overwhelmingly approved by voters 60% to 40%, but developer Brynn Grey Partners was unable to purchase the property in time and the whole deal fell through.

That set up the summer of 2021, when YVHA received an anonymous donation to purchase the 535-acre Brown Ranch and started planning a development that would address 100% of the need of housing in Steamboat Springs based on a housing demand study. The need was estimated at 1,400 units today and more than 2,200 by 2040 to support the local workforce. The Brown Ranch is planned to have 2,262 units, a number derived from that demand study.

But one of the key arguments against annexation is that the Brown Ranch is too big, with some petitioners saying they are not against the project, just against the current size of it. Petitioners don’t have a proposal for how it would be scaled back. While mentioned throughout annexation talks, scaling back the Brown Ranch plan was not deeply explored.

“The funds generated through short-term rental taxes are a valuable opportunity to house our community,” the petition committee wrote in its release. “Let’s get it right and scale it back.”

While there are safeguards in the annexation agreement to protect the city, critics of the Brown Ranch argue the project puts a drain on the city’s budget and will eventually require new taxes, though none are currently being proposed. The annexation agreement negotiated between the city and YVHA is “subject to appropriation” and City Attorney Dan Foote has said there is no way for the annexation agreement itself to bankrupt the city. If the city is unable to come up with its share of funding for infrastructure, the Council at the time has the authority to stop issuing building permits.  If YVHA misses certain unit delivery metrics, council also can scale back funding and eventually cut it off entirely.

YVHA has been expecting another vote on Brown Ranch, a vote that some argue will be the third on Brown Ranch itself. In 2022, the STR Tax ballot question directly mentioned that funding from that tax would be used at Brown Ranch and other affordable and attainable housing projects in Steamboat. That overwhelmingly passed with more than 62% of voters choosing ‘yes.”

Steamboat Springs Voters also just approved allocating that funding to Brown Ranch in Ballot Measure 2I, which was approved earlier this month with more than 54% of Steamboat voters in support. The measure allocates 75% of STR revenues to the housing authority to use at the Brown Ranch, with much of the funding earmarked for significant infrastructure upgrades. This measure references the annexation agreement, so if annexation were to fall apart, this measure would become moot.

As it was clear Ballot Measure 2I would pass on election night, YVHA Executive Director Jason Peasley said he wasn’t concerned about the prospects of a vote on Brown Ranch.

“We respect the community’s decision. If they want to put it to a vote, let's have that vote,” Peasley said. “We’ll be right there with them, continuing this conversation that we have had for the last several months about the value of Brown Ranch and the benefits it can bring to the community.”

The city has started posting scanned versions of the submitted petition. Clerk Julie Franklin has 10 days from when the final signatures were turned in to validate them and ensure there is at least 1,133 in total. If there are, the city will set a date for a special election.


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