Forest Service land in Steamboat could eventually become affordable housing
Provision in 2018 Farm Bill allows U.S. Forest Service to lease out administrative land long term, allowing development
More than half of the land in Routt County is public, owned by federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service. But some land the Forest Service owns isn’t in or adjacent to Routt National Forest.
Unlike the expansive forests, this land isn’t useful for camping, it lacks any trails for hiking and it isn’t even treated as part of the larger National Forest system of land. Instead, it is classified as an administrative property.
One of these properties is within the city limits of Steamboat Springs off Hilltop Parkway. The roughly 8.5-acre plot of land was purchased by the Forest Service in 1995, and, while there have been conversations about building a new office there, it still sits empty nearly 30 years later.
Unloading this land over that time hasn’t been easy, limited only to a sale or land exchange, either of which can take as long as a decade to complete. But the 2018 Farm Bill changed that.
“This Farm Bill authority is a real opportunity to have a win-win situation,” said Michael Woodbridge, the District Ranger for the Hahns Peak and Bears Ears Ranger District.
A provision in that Farm Bill, known as the Forest Service Flexible Partnerships Act, gives the forest service authority to issue long-term land leases, allowing other entities to develop property the Forest Service isn’t using.
“This new leasing authority should strengthen federal-local partnerships in our rural areas,” said Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who pushed for the provision to be added to the 2018 Farm Bill, in 2020.
Many of these administrative lands are in towns close to national forests, often in mountain towns like Steamboat. As housing is arguably the number one issue locally, Woodbridge said he hopes to use land they have to help ease it.
“This could be a way for the Forest Service to help do what we can,” Woodbridge said. “Both because it so important for this community, but it is also a shared concern for us.”
Woodbridge, who worked remotely while looking for housing locally as he moved from California to take over as the top local ranger, said housing is a limiting factor when they try to hire as well. They add 20 to 30 seasonal workers each summer but their bunkhouse in Steamboat can only accommodate about 10 people.
Using the new authority given in the Farm Bill, Woodbridge is talking with the city, Routt County and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority about partnering to pave the way for a potential development.
The Farm Bill provision gives local government entities first right of refusal to lease this land, and Woodbridge said the housing authority would likely be the lead agency on the project on behalf of the city or county.
In early conversations with the Housing Authority, Woodbridge said there has been talk of as many as 100 units of varying size on the property, though it could be some time before any deal is in place.
As the land is owned by the American people, Woodbridge said they need to ensure it will have a broader benefit that just the people of Steamboat, but he felt housing for Forest Service employees could be a way to fulfill that.
“We’re still in pretty early stages, so there a lot to get figured out,” Woodbridge said, noting that there isn’t a clear timeline. “My goal is we get to a point where there’s affordable housing on the property as soon as possible.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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