Steamboat has seen numerous annexations over the years and annexation has been called for in plans for growth west of Steamboat Springs.
This story is part a reporting series called "Brown Ranch: Explained." New stories in this series will be published on Fridays. To get the latest, subscribe to The Morning Bugle Newsletter.
The Gist: March 26 will be third time Steamboat has voted on annexation of this property.
The central question to the March 26 Special Election in Steamboat Springs is should the city limits be extended to include roughly 400 acres of land known as the Brown Ranch.
The process to extend the city limits — known as annexation — started at the end of 2022 when the Yampa Valley Housing Authority petitioned the city for annexation. From there the city and housing authority negotiated an annexation agreement laying out the terms of annexation and governing development at the Brown Ranch.
This annexation agreement defines who will pay for various costs, how services like water, transit and emergency services will be delivered, and has various guardrails meant to protect the city if the project goes awry.
In October, City Council voted to approve the annexation of Brown Ranch per the annexation agreement with an ordinance, but that was successfully petitioned by the citizen-led campaign Let Steamboat Vote. The petition required council to repeal the annexation ordinance or send it to a public vote, of which they chose the latter.
Council set the special election day for March 26. Ballots will be sent to registered Steamboat Springs voters at the beginning of March. Only registered voters within the current city limits are eligible to vote in the special election. That means residents who live in unincorporated Routt County cannot vote on Brown Ranch, even if they live is subdivisions like Silver Spur, which boarder the development.
Has Steamboat Springs annexed land before?
There have been numerous annexations that have extended the city limits of Steamboat Springs beyond what is known as Old Town Steamboat. In the 1970s areas around Fish Creek, the base of Steamboat Resort and Whistler were annexed into the city. In 1989 it was the Fairview/13th Street areas and West Steamboat.
What is the advantage of annexation when developing new land?
The key benefit of annexation is that it allows developers to tie into current infrastructure, which significantly reduces overall development costs and the costs to provide services for residents.
From the 2006 update of the West Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan: “The City of Steamboat Springs is already set up to provide urban services. Thus, annexation to the City will be required for those areas that will be developed at urban densities.”
Have there been attempts to annex the land now known as the Brown Ranch before?
March 26 will be the third time that Steamboat Springs voters will decide on an annexation plan for this parcel of land now being called Brown Ranch.
The first annexation attempt went to a vote in 2010. That proposal, known as Steamboat 700, included roughly 2,000 homes and 4,700 residents on the city’s western edge. In 2009, Steamboat City Council approved annexation, but it was successfully petitioned to a vote by residents.
In a March 2010 special election, Steamboat voters rejected the annexation of Steamboat 700 by nearly 20 percentage points in a sharp rebuke of the development.
Nearly a decade later, part of this land was up for annexation again in a project known as West Steamboat Neighborhoods. At just over 190 acres and 450 total homes, West Steamboat Neighborhoods was a smaller project than Steamboat 700.
After Steamboat Springs City Council approved the annexation agreement for West Steamboat Neighborhoods, that too was petitioned to a citywide vote by residents. Unlike Steamboat 700, West Steamboat Neighborhoods was approved by voters with nearly 60% voting yes to the question of annexation.
While approved, the annexation of West Steamboat Neighborhoods would eventually fall apart when developer Brynn Grey failed to purchase the land by a November 2019 deadline. When that deadline passed, the terms of the annexation deal approved by voters were no longer valid.
How was the Brown Ranch Annexation Agreement developed?
The agreement governing Brown Ranch annexation being considered by Steamboat voters in March was negotiated by a special committee established by the Steamboat Springs City Council called the Brown Ranch Annexation Committee.
This committee featured two city council members (Robin Crossan and Joella West), two members of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority Board (Leah Wood and Kathi Meyer), YVHA Executive Director Jason Peasley, Steamboat City Manager Gary Suiter and third-party facilitator Jason Lacy.
After starting in January 2023, the committee worked through the summer to draft a 36-page annexation agreement that was approved by City Council in October. This involved 17 different annexation committee meetings each held in public and several meetings at city council to finalize the agreement.
The final document includes 17 different sections that discuss the general plan for development, on and off-site infrastructure, water and wastewater, affordability requirements, allocation of the short-term rental tax and various performance metrics that could limit or stall the project if not met.
Why is Brown Ranch annexation going to a vote?
Initially, Steamboat Springs City Council voted to send the annexation question to voters, but then reversed that decision and decided to approve annexation without consulting Steamboat voters.
Like what happened in 2009 and 2019, a group of Steamboat residents known as the Let Steamboat Vote campaign got enough signatures to force council to repeal annexation or send it to a public vote. In January, City Council set the special election for March 26.
Who can vote in the March special election?
Only registered voters within the city of Steamboat Springs will be able to vote in the March special election. This means that people living in the unincorporated county will not have an opportunity to vote on Brown Ranch annexation.