Despite voter approval, West Steamboat annexation hangs in the balance of access agreement
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Though approved by voters, the West Steamboat Neighborhoods annexation could be unraveled if the developer is unable to secure an agreement to grant road access to the property within the next five weeks.
As it’s written, the ordinance annexing the land does not take effect unless an access agreement is in place, allowing the property a legal right-of-way connecting it to U.S. Highway 40.
Steamboat Springs City Council set a deadline for Brynn Grey Partners to have an access agreement in place by Sept. 3, 60 days after the election result was certified. This deadline was pushed back once the ordinance was petitioned onto the ballot from an original date of May 31.
The annexation ordinance was approved in a split vote, as some council members wanted to see the access agreement in place before approving the ordinance while others argued that this is typically required at final plat.
On Tuesday, Brynn Grey sought an extension for that deadline, saying in a letter to City Council that negotiations between Brynn Grey and the entities that could grant access had reached “extraordinary circumstances.”
Brynn Grey CEO David O’Neil said the deadline set by City Council altered the negotiation. O’Neil said the property owner set an inflated price for the parcel, and Overlook Park was unwilling to sign on because Overlook Park developer Bob Zibell views West Steamboat Neighborhoods as a competitor.
“You’re now smack dab in the middle of a private negotiation between three parties,” O’Neil said. “It’s very complicated. The bottom line of all this is this deadline here. … It changed everybody’s expectations, and not unreasonably so.”
He appealed to City Council, mentioning the support they’d shown and time put in to negotiating the annexation as a whole, telling council members that “if you believe in the vision,” it would be simple to write an ordinance eliminating the deadline.
In public comment, Steve Elkins, who is associated with Overlook Park, blamed Brynn Grey for the absence of a final agreement, saying Brynn Grey “never approached this issue in good faith.”
John Holloway, Overlook’s legal representation, said he wanted to “skip to the good news,” that Overlook was communicating about access agreement documents with Steamboat 700, the group that owns the would-be West Steamboat Neighborhoods parcel.
“I think that’s a step in the right direction. As far as I’m concerned, you guys ought to table this matter and let us work this out like a bunch of big boys,” he said.
In other public comment, five people spoke in favor of allowing Brynn Grey to file an access agreement with its preliminary plat later. Two spoke in support of maintaining the September deadline.
When council began to discuss whether or not it would consider an ordinance extending or eliminating the deadline, the decision became an emotional one.
Council members Sonja Macys, Scott Ford, Heather Sloop and Kathi Meyer wanted to maintain the Sept. 3 deadline for the sake of transparency to voters and ask Brynn Grey to uphold its word that the negotiations would be complete.
“We can’t make them come to agreement, but this is not a regular development. This is an annexation,” Meyer said. “This council said ‘Let’s annex 190 acres without an access.’ That wasn’t good policy in my opinion.”
“Asking somebody to uphold their word that we’ve been told repeatedly could be upheld is not the same as being for or against a project,” Macys said in response to O’Neil’s comment about supporting the vision. “It’s just a flat-out false dichotomy.”
“The citizens voted for a particular, entire deal, and that deal included a deadline to secure access,” Ford said. “I’m uncomfortable with changing the terms of that deal, and I know the magnitude of my position here.”
Ford is frequently the swing vote on the council. While Sloop, Meyer and Macys had expressed similar positions before, Ford’s stance placed those council members who wanted to maintain the deadline in the majority.
- Though the proposed West Steamboat Neighborhoods property is adjacent to U.S. Highway 40, the main route to the neighborhoods stretches over a 45-foot wide stretch of private property. To place its road and allow would-be residents to drive over it, Brynn Grey needs legal access to the property, by easement or some other form. This access has to be in this location across from the entryway to Sleepy Bear Mobile Home Park because it’s what has been approved by the Colorado Department of Transportation in long-term plans for intersections on U.S. 40.
- The development neighboring West Steamboat Neighborhoods, Overlook Park, has legal authority to sign off on an agreement allowing that access based on an agreement with the private property owner. Overlook Park or the property owner could grant West Steamboat Neighborhoods access over that 45-foot stretch.
- Overlook also has access over that stretch. Before Overlook Park records a final plat, one of the last steps in the planning review process, it has to dedicate that access to the city, making it a city street.
Sloop agreed with Meyer, saying that the access agreement should be in place sooner rather than later, as an annexation is different than a typical city planning approval. She also took issue with the fact that O’Neil met with the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation. She saw it as overstepping local CDOT leadership, though O’Neil said he spoke to regional CDOT officials and told them he looked to meet with the executive director.
Council members Jason Lacy, Lisel Petis and Robin Crossan wanted to see the deadline eliminated.
Crossan wanted to take away the shadow of uncertainty the access throws on the annexation, and she said she was encouraged by the words of Overlook’s and Steamboat 700’s lawyers, who said they had documents to work through. She said she felt council should give them more time to “make it work.”
Lacy and Petis saw the fact that the deadline was put in place as a mistake with unintended consequences. Lacy said the comments Tuesday made it clear council was “far too involved” in the issue.
“The fact that we set a deadline has clearly created all these issues we’re reading about, all the issues we heard about in public comment,” Lacy said.
“When I look at this, what I see is unintended consequences,” he continued. “I see that we made a small portion of this agreement with a deadline for an access that in the normal course of business, as we’ve seen tonight, we shouldn’t even be involved with.
“It’s not just the three years that we’ve worked on this, and staff and the community. It’s the 20-plus years over a generation that this community has been trying to make something happen,” Lacy said.
“What we’re saying is that we’ve worked all that time, many people who aren’t even in this room worked all that time, and we’re going to say ‘This is done because of when an access gets in place,'” Lacy continued. “I just think that’s a real shame, and I think that would be a real failure on our part.”
“I agree that we made a mistake, but I don’t think we agree on the same mistake,” Macys said soon after. “I think the mistake that has been made here is that this is one of the primary pieces of the puzzle that needed to be locked down pretty much right away.”
Macys moved to maintain the agreement as written and approved by voters. Meyer seconded the motion.
Crossan asked Ford to change his decision.
“Scott, I would hope that you would reconsider,” Crossan said.
“I understand. It’s a tough spot for me,” he replied.
“Because they might get it done in five weeks, and they might not, and if they don’t, this entire community loses,” she said. “Every single person in this community will lose.”
The motion passed 4 to 3, with Lacy, Petis and Crossan opposed.
To view City Council’s discussion on this topic, visit steamboatsprings.net/agendas.
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