Building a new community: Housing Authority holds first discussions on next steps for West Steamboat property

Having closed Wednesday on the purchase of the Brown Ranch property, 536 acres west of Steamboat Springs formerly owned by Steamboat 700, the Yampa Valley Housing Authority is placing great emphasis on organization and outreach as the next steps toward solving Routt County’s housing crisis.

At its regular board meeting Thursday, the first in-person regular meeting for the Housing Authority board since the beginning of the pandemic, there was a sense of optimism but also acknowledgment that a long, difficult road lies ahead.

“We need to digest the immensity of all of this,” said Jason Peasley, executive director of the Housing Authority.

Gov. Jared Polis indicated in conversations Wednesday as he stopped in Steamboat during his tour through Northwest Colorado that the state would lend fiscal support to the Housing Authority’s new development, as long as the project’s timeline matches funding availability. That funding, Polis said, has to be awarded by 2024 and spent by 2026.

That accelerated timeline puts some pressure on the Housing Authority, Peasley said.

The discussions held by the board Thursday represented the first steps in ensuring the project maintains a sense of urgency but, at the same time, is well-organized, thoughtful and inclusive.

An initial schedule set by the Housing Authority calls for nine to 12 months to develop a comprehensive development plan for the property, which Peasley said is the first in many steps toward delivering housing to locals who desperately need it.

“If all goes well, we could be putting in infrastructure in 2023, maybe as early as late 2022,” Peasley said. “First home could be delivered in 2024 at the earliest.”

A question at the forefront of the project, considering the history of the Steamboat 700 land, is if the property will be annexed into the city of Steamboat Springs’ boundary.

Peasley said the Housing Authority shouldn’t be in too much of a rush to petition the city for annexation. Instead, the process should place collaboration ahead of haste.

“We want to do this process from a position of collaboration with the city, the county and the community,” Peasley said. “By petitioning for annexation, we essentially paint the city into a corner.”

Annexing the land would simply mean the city’s boundaries are redrawn to encompass the 536 acres. It would also allow the land access to city water and zoning codes that promote higher density building.

“We don’t want to miss the opportunity because we were over-analyzing this,” said Michael Buccino, a Steamboat Springs City Council member who also sits on the Housing Authority board. Buccino advocated to the board the benefit of getting the annexation done quickly, particularly considering there could be as many as four new City Council members that could tilt a potential outcome.

Fellow housing board member Tim Corrigan, president of the Routt County Board of Commissioners, indicated if the property fails to be annexed into the city, it becomes a county project.

“If the city doesn’t want it, the county would step up and do what’s needed,” Corrigan said, indicating he was taking a “devil’s advocate” approach to the argument though he admitted finding a suitable water source for the development would be difficult if it remains within the county.

An alternative suggested by Buccino, but one that didn’t seem to gain too much traction with other board members, would be to create a new municipality under Routt County for the development.

In early talks with his fellow City Council members, Buccino told the housing board that there are some who have already shown hesitancy to annex the property. The measure passed by a slim 4-3 margin when City Council last voted to annex the property in June 2019, which then proceeded to a public vote in November 2019 and ended up passing. But because a deal with developer Brynn Grey fell through, the property was never successfully annexed.

At this point, the Housing Authority will not immediately seek annexation approval. On the advice of several on the board, Buccino committed to having a deeper conversation with city staff and council members then share the consensus at a future board meeting.

What was unanimously approved during Thursday’s meeting was the agreement to create an RFP, or request for proposal, to obtain consultants for the project that would advise the Housing Authority in a number of areas.

“The goal here is that we would engage a team of consultants that would help us in the main areas of focus — infrastructure, housing demand, urban design, long-term stewardship, economics,” Peasley said.

That team would be tasked with performing the heavy lifting of the analysis and study of the technical details of the project.

“This is going to be a potentially very large community,” Peasley said. “Many times bigger than Oak Creek. It’s going to need services.”

It’s not going to be just a bedroom community, he explained. The development will not solely include housing but also other public facets, such as commercial space, grocery stores, schools, day cares, parks and more.

“This is really taking what we know of the demand and what’s the practicality of developing it and pairing that with real economics and figuring out what we can do,” Peasley said. “That’s the goal here.”

Another component to the beginning phase of the project is community outreach, which the board touted as a major piece to this project.

“It’s not a developer coming in, buying land and building high-end homes,” Buccino said.

The land and thereby the development is actually community owned, through the Housing Authority, according to Peasley, which is the impetus for driving public outreach.

Longtime local resident Sheila Henderson, former director of Integrated Community and former member of the Housing Authority board, was tapped to lead a steering committee that will pioneer a plan for development on behalf of the community.

The Housing Authority will soon seek applications for 11 to 15 slots on the committee from any member of the community with a passion and livable or professional experience related to housing. It’s imperative members of the committee represent different backgrounds and interests, according to the board.

The hope is for this committee to look similar to the successful community engagement process undertaken by the Housing Authority in 2016 when working to get the 5A ballot measure passed by voters. The successful measure resulted in the levying of a 2-mill property tax to support the Housing Authority.

Applications will be accepted until Sept. 6. Applicants will then be chosen in time for them to attend the next board meeting Sept. 9.

“We have everyone’s attention now,” said Cole Hewitt, president of the Housing Authority board.

“We’ve got this opportunity — now let’s go to work,” Peasley added.

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