Brown Ranch will need significant community support to make vision a reality

Details presented last week include 2,300 units in a variety of housing types organized into a pedestrian-focused development

The Brown Ranch is a 536-acre property purchased last year by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority with an anonymous donation.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to say Yampa Valley Housing Authority Board Member Catherine Carson said she believed the project could get tens, but not hundreds of millions from the federal government.

The first phase of construction at the Brown Ranch would build more than 1,100 units, with about a third of that new stock of apartments and single-family options available for purchase, according to a presentation to the project’s steering committee last week.

That first phase could be further split into multiple phases, but initial construction would likely start at the southeast portion of the property and make a connection with the currently under construction Overlook Subdivision.

Preliminary designs on the project put pedestrians first by removing some roadways in favor of linear greenways that would connect various parks and open space through the development with an extended core trail.

By 2050, the development plans to add nearly 2,300 units to the housing-starved Steamboat Springs market. The mix would include about 61% apartments, 21% attached single-family dwellings, and 18% stand alone single-family homes.

On Friday, April 29, planners with Mithun Inc., the lead design consultant on the project, shared detailed land use options, potential school and park locations, and early concepts for types of buildings the development could utilize.

The planning — described as still being in the “early stages” — is based on months of community outreach and local number crunching to understand what the development needs to include to meet the Yampa Valley’s housing demand over the next two decades.

But what the presentation and discussion that followed also made clear is that the $24 million donation gifted to the community last summer was only a down payment on Steamboat’s housing future.

Jason Peasley, executive director of the housing authority, estimated the cost to fully build out the infrastructure needed at the Brown Ranch would approach $400 million — more than 16 times the initial donation.

“We as a community have some major infrastructure investments that we need to make,” Peasley said, noting some infrastructure improvements are on the property, and some are off-site. “All that comes with a price, so we’re talking about a significant haul as it relates to infrastructure.”

Planning effort

Last week, design consultants on the Brown Ranch project participated in a series of charettes, which is an intense period of design activity.

In an interview prior to the charettes, Peasley said consultants would be taking all the public input and technical study done so far and “crushing it together and seeing what comes out on the paper.”

On Friday, Bert Gregory, a design partner with Mithun who has worked on large development projects across the country, said the first goal was to “narrow down a million possibilities to three general potential ways to distribute things.”

Gregory said they wanted to craft a plan with a strong structure for how the community will build out, but also allow for flexibility in the future. He said they anticipated apartments both as standalone buildings, but also as part of mixed-use structures that would offer commercial space on the lower level.

There are also nearly 500 single-family attached units planned, which would be like town homes or duplexes, and another almost 400 detached single-family homes.

“It’s quite a mix of different kinds of housing types,” Gregory said.

There is also nearly a quarter-million square feet of non-residential space needed, according to a demand analysis done as part of the planning. Current assumptions include another grocery store, space for child care, and a new school in addition to retail and office space.

“We want to create a plan that is flexible to kind of contract or grow with whatever demand is, and maybe switch overtime,” Gregory said.

The project timeline anticipates there will be about three options for review by the end of May, with a final plan by July. There would then be time for community comments and more fine-tuning of the plan in the fall.

Layout options

Katie Stege, an architect with Mithun, shared three options for land use put together during planning, each identifying where various housing types would be built, potential paths for roads and the core trail, and what areas would be set aside for a future school or open space.

Each option makes road connections with U.S. Highway 40 on the south end of the property, roads in the Overlook Subdivision to the east and Routt County Road 42 near Silver Spur on the property’s west side.

All options give a wide buffer around Slate Creek and anticipate some areas will not be suitable for future development because of steep terrain. Significant landmarks like high elevation points and the old log barn on-site are also being considered.

“We walked the site together thinking about those conceptual diagrams and then really got the pencils out and started drawing,” Stege said.

The most significant differences between the options are the road layouts — mainly where they cross Slate Creek — and the layout of the future school.

Option 2 attempts to create a school campus-like feel by putting it near Sleeping Giant School on the property’s west side. Option 3 centralizes the school in what Gregory called “Central Village,” where it would be fully incorporated with surrounding buildings as a pseudo community center.

Gregory said either way a school likely wouldn’t come until Phase 2.

Whichever option or combination of them is ultimately chosen, Gregory said it makes the most sense to start on the southeast side of the property where the Overlook Subdivision is currently under construction. Units in this area would be higher-density with some mixed-use, but would transition down as they approached Overlook.

“What you’re seeing will evolve significantly,” Gregory said. “We got a lot more work to do to make sure, but we think it’s going to work.”

One concept drawing for what a greenway would look like in a higher density area.
Brown Ranch Steering Committee

Pedestrian focused

One way to keep the community walkable is to have nodes of commercial and other uses throughout, Gregory said. Current designs plan for three nodes, two smaller and one larger, with the larger one intended for the southeast corner.

In these nodes, some of the streets would be replaced with a greenway that would connect with an extension of the core trail, which will likely traverse through the southern end of the property.

Mixing non-residential uses into the community could reduce transportation demand by as much as 40%, Gregory said. He also suggested housing units could open up right onto the greenway, with alley access in back.

“The more transportation demand you have, the wider the streets have to get, the more stuff has to happen and the more costs are,” Gregory said. “(The greenway) could be like a mini park connecting through.”

While plans try to limit the need for parking, Gregory said the development would likely have one level of parking incorporated into larger apartment buildings. There will also be surface lots in central locations that could eventually be transitioned into more housing if the demand for parking subsides.

“We’re trying to build in flexibility not just for what’s going to happen in the next 10 years, but for over the lifespan of the project,” said Kristen Belt, an architect with Mithun. “In 50 years, our reliance on cars may look very different.”

This graphic illustrates the the efficiencies gained when building more compact developments, as each block of infrastructure costs about the same to build.
Brown Ranch Steering Committee/Courtesy

Getting Support

With a rough estimate of $400 million in infrastructure costs, Making last week’s planning presentation a reality will require a significant financial contribution from the Steamboat community.

“There’s a lot of variability with that, but I think our best guess is probably $220 million on-site for infrastructure and another $180 million off-site,” Peasley said.

Needed improvements include roads, sewer lines and electrical infrastructure throughout the property, as well as improvements to U.S. 40, an expansion of overall sewer capacity, and potentially finding an additional water source for the development, Peasley said.

Not all of these improvements are the responsibility of the Brown Ranch, Peasley said. Nevertheless, he affirmed the use of some of the improvements, stating that another water supply would help with redundancy, and U.S. 40 would likely need upgrades independent of this development.

State and federal officials have said the project looks attractive and will likely get some funding, but housing authority board member Catherine Carson said she believed that dollar amount would be in the tens and not hundreds of millions.

Paying for this infrastructure is how the development remains affordable and accessible for the locals who live in the Yampa Valley now, Peasley said.

“We’re not in a position to pass that on,” Peasley said.

Tim Wohlgenant, a member of the steering committee and executive director of the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, said they needed to start the work now to see what funding could be secured locally.

“The question we have to answer is how are we going to get to $400 million,” Wohlgenant said. “Is that completely unrealistic or is there a chance?”

Wohlgenant said he thought it was doable, noting voters supported a nearly $80 million bond for a new school in 2019.

“It’s a daunting number,” Peasley said. “The only way we fail is if we stop trying.”

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