Brown Ranch ballot language finalized; City Council votes to remove regional park costs from project

This aerial view shows what the different neighborhoods at the Brown Ranch could look like once built.
Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy photo

After an extended and at times heated Steamboat Springs City Council discussion Tuesday night, officials approved sending a ballot measure to be decided in November asking voters to allocate 75% of short-term rental tax revenues to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority for the planned development of 2,000-plus affordable housing units by 2042.

On Tuesday, council members voted 4-3 to send the ballot language to the voters, with City Council President Robin Crossan and member Michael Buccino reversing their stance on approving the ballot measure over its language, which locks in a 9% short-term tax collection.

Last year, voters passed a ballot measure allowing the city to collect up to 9% in short-term tax revenues.

“I won’t be supporting this because of the 9% cap. I just don’t want to tie the hands of councils in the future,” Buccino said.

“Housing is the most important thing, but I made a promise to the voters (about the STR tax) and I said multiple times up to 9%,” Crossan said. “I fully support this. I support housing and everything that is moving forward, but I can’t lie to the community.”

Council members Joella West, Dakotah McGinlay, Ed Briones and Gail Garey approved of the language.

“We have a housing crisis, and we need to move forward, and I think this is the best option on the table,” Garey said. “And I think it is appropriate to put the 9% in the language so our community can weigh in on this.”

“I hope our community understands this is a really big step toward the future of Brown Ranch and the housing authority’s ability to fund it,” McGinlay added.

The short-term rental tax funding mechanism articulated in the now-approved ballot language is contingent on the housing authority meeting a set of agreed-upon performance metrics, included in a proposed annexation agreement, whereby the authority would need to complete 420 affordable housing units in six years and 1,100 units in 12 years.

If those benchmarks are not met, the funding would be partially reduced after seven years and could be cut off entirely at the 13-year mark.

Regional park removed

In January, housing authority and city negotiators began working out a proposed annexation agreement for the Brown Ranch area while undertaking the parallel process to form a ballot question to underlie the development’s funding.

The current 38-page draft annexation agreement lays the framework for the development of the Brown Ranch area and, in a separate discussion from the ballot question, council members continued to work through its language Tuesday night.

Members will vote to approve the agreement at a second reading later this month before taking another vote to adopt the annexation agreement as a city ordinance. They could also decide to refer their ordinance approval to voters; or, if a citizen petition is filed within 30 days of the council’s ordinance approval, the measure would be put to a referendum.

If the annexation agreement is not passed, or is challenged by petition before the November election, the city would remove the ballot question from the vote, according to Dan Foote, the city’s attorney.

A major point of contention in the Brown Ranch annexation agreement negotiations has centered on how the development will incorporate more than 60 acres of community parks and open green space as part of the development along with a 40-acre regional park.

The regional park’s inclusion in the Brown Ranch project plans has been a focal point at the negotiation table for months as officials have wrestled with how the city will fund its portion of necessary capital infrastructure needed to support the development.

Council members emerged from an executive session Aug. 22 to announce that they would no longer ask the Brown Ranch development to allot space for the regional park with an alternative proposal for the city to purchase land elsewhere and the housing authority to contribute funding for its construction.

In a win for the housing authority negotiators, City Council decided Tuesday to remove the $54.2 million cost of the 40-acre regional park from the Brown Ranch project’s financial impact analysis — reducing the city budget’s projected shortfall of non-utility capital projects, including parks and U.S. Highway 40 improvements, from $108.2 to $54.2 million.

Decided by a straw vote, members decided 5-2 on removal of the regional park’s costs from the city’s financial forecast — with Crossan and Heather Sloop voting to keep it in the conversation.

A seemingly frustrated Buccino cited a disconnect in the council’s discussion before voting to keep the regional park’s financial impact out of the city’s projections.

“This becomes a policy decision right now at the Brown Ranch annexation,” he said. “We have been mulling over parks and cost of parks and how much parks are to the point that we are at the detriment of killing this annexation because we have to find a way to pay for these parks.”

McGinlay and the remainder of council members agreed.

“The community has asked us to address affordable housing and I don’t think that’s putting parks against affordable housing, its prioritization, and right now we are prioritizing housing,” McGinlay said.

Yampa Valley Housing Director Executive Director Jason Peasley expressed concern that the regional park space and other park-related matters included by the city in the annexation agreement amount to a “misuse of short-term rental funds for a purpose of what is well beyond what the original project called for.”

After more than seven months of negotiations, Peasley pointed out that the parties agree on more than 90% of the annexation agreement’s proposed language.

“They are ready to get this done and not be held hostage by parks,” Peasley said of the council members’ parks discussion and straw vote.

“I think we are very close on the park things,” he added. “But we just need to push this over the edge.”

STR/Brown Ranch Ballot Question

The approved STR/Brown Ranch ballot question is as follows:

Without increasing taxes or imposing any new taxes, shall the city of Steamboat Springs be authorized to allocate 75% of its short-term rental tax revenues through 2042 to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority (“YVHA”) for affordable and attainable housing at Brown Ranch, including infrastructure, and to agree not to reduce the current 9% tax rate during the term of this commitment, with the commitment being contingent on YVHA’s timely completion of affordable and attainable housing units, all as set forth in section 9 of the City and YVHA September 2023 Annexation Agreement between the City and YVHA, with the city’s commitment regarding short-term rental tax revenues being seen as a multiple fiscal-year financial obligation within the meaning of Article X, Section 20(4)(B) of the Colorado Constitution?

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