Building Community: What is the Brown Ranch, and can I afford to call it home? |

Building Community: What is the Brown Ranch, and can I afford to call it home?

Sheila Henderson and Roger Ashton
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Brown Ranch is a special place just west of the current Steamboat Springs city limits. It’s a beautiful 536-acre property with meadows, bluffs, creeks and rolling hills that include stunning views of the ski area, the Continental Divide, the Sleeping Giant and Emerald Mountain. For more than a century, the Brown family farmed the land, producing oats and wheat, raising horses and a generation of children. And for the past 14 years, it has laid fallow.

Now, thanks to the foresight and generosity of an anonymous donor who gifted this property to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, our community has the opportunity of a lifetime. Over time, this special place will become a series of vibrant, resilient, diverse and welcoming neighborhoods. It can provide a wide variety of housing options and services designed by and for the Yampa Valley community. The Brown Ranch can help preserve the Steamboat character we all cherish by providing all Routt County workers, regardless of income level, an opportunity for affordable, stable housing.

Within a day of closing on the property in mid-August, the Housing Authority initiated a community-led comprehensive planning process. It included a call for steering committee members and a request for proposals for comprehensive development plan technical consultants. We soon received more than 90 applications for the steering committee from residents committed to working hard for the future of our community and more than 10 proposals from all over the country from potential technical consultant teams who were excited by this opportunity.

The applicants for the steering committee were a true snapshot of our community, representing a variety of skill sets, viewpoints and demographics. The 20 who were ratified by the housing authority board are now meeting weekly. They’re tasked with creating an overall vision along with the main priorities for the property that will guide development through the coming decades. And at their October meeting, the housing authority board agreed to engage a world-class team of forward-thinking technical consultants to help analyze, guide and design the community-based vision for the Brown Ranch. We are currently negotiating the contract specifics, timeline and deliverables.

So, after a break for the holidays, the housing authority is planning a Brown Ranch community presentation the last week in January (watch for details). And shortly after this kick-off event, the community-based focus teams will swing into action. The volunteer focus teams will comprise any community member who wants to bring their passion, expertise and voice to the Brown Ranch decision-making process. The teams will meet over several months and will deeply dive into the housing needs, hopes and concerns of our community. These focus teams will include:

Housing demand: This team will update our housing needs assessment. They will take a hard look at the number of housing units needed, so residents have multiple stable and affordable housing options. It will also include a dive into commercial and recreational needs.

Infrastructure: This team will look at opportunities and limits regarding water, sewer, storm water, dry utilities, sustainable energy, transportation and the implementation schedule.

Urban design: This team will look at design concepts for each phase, inclusive of housing, commercial, open space and trails, streets and other key services.

Long-term stewardship and sustainability: This team will identify best practices for long term affordability. Environmental sustainability, such as water consumptions, energy production and building efficiency, will also follow best practices with the goal of remaining flexible to new technology.

Project economics: This team will analyze the best approach to funding each urban design concept to identify development funding gaps, provide creative solutions and to ensure that the community is self-sustaining long term.

The Brown Ranch is not just another housing development. The housing authority believes the Brown Ranch can be a self-sufficient and radically sustainable community. We believe the Brown Ranch can include a large variety of housing options at a variety of price points. We believe the Brown Ranch can include open space, parks, commercial opportunities and even a grocery store. We believe nonprofit and human service organizations, infant day cares and preschools, medical facilities and other community-identified needs will help make the Brown Ranch vibrant, resilient and welcoming.

And now is the time to share your dreams and hopes for this special place. Now is the time to think big. What do you think should be included in this amazing opportunity?

The housing authority is working hard to ensure everyone can provide input during the planning process. If you would like us to meet with your group, whether it be a business, club, neighborhood or organization, please let us know. You can email us at And stay tuned as we roll out our websites. They will include platforms to provide input in English and Spanish.

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