Housing authority seeks $1 million from Routt County for Brown Ranch planning

Request invokes $5 million in funding the county received from American Rescue Plan Act

Jason Peasley, executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, talks with U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, prior to a round table discussion about affordable housing issues on Wednesday, April 20, at the Brown Ranch west of Steamboat Springs. The ranch was purchased by the authority last August, and plans are to build 2,300 units there by 2040.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Yampa Valley Housing Authority has asked Routt County commissioners to consider contributing $1 million the county received from the American Rescue Plan Act toward planning at Brown Ranch.

In a letter to commissioners dated July 11, executive director Jason Peasley said that by the end of the year, the housing authority will complete a multi-layered master plan outlining a vision for how 2,300 housing units and 200,000 square feet of commercial space, along with parks, open space, roads and trails, could be developed.

“To achieve the vision of the Brown Ranch, our community needs to invest in the next phase of its development: detailed infrastructure design,” Peasley wrote.

Commissioners have not yet discussed the request in depth. County Manager Jay Harrington said he preferred commissioners put the housing authority on an upcoming meeting agenda to further discuss the request and what, if any, money the county could contribute.

Work on the Brown Ranch Comprehensive Development Plan has so far been funded with grants from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs’ Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund, the Colorado Health Foundation, the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation and Deer Park Road, an investment firm based in Steamboat started by Michael Craig-Sheckman in 2003.

Work on this plan has been ongoing since the housing authority bought the Brown Ranch property with a $24 million anonymous donation in August 2021. In that time, the housing authority has held more than 200 meetings that engaged 3,250 community members — a number that equates to about a quarter of Steamboat Springs’ population.

The funding requested would be used to advance the first part of development with infrastructure planning that has more details than the comprehensive development plan.

“Our local contributions will be matched 2:1 with state and philanthropic grants to complete the infrastructure design process,” Peasley wrote. “Critically, this local investment will enable our infrastructure construction projects to be shovel-ready and eligible for tens of millions of dollars in time-sensitive state and federal grant programs.”

In separate stops at the property, Gov. Jared Polis and Sen. John Hickenlooper have both said the Brown Ranch project would be a strong contender for state and federal support, though nothing has been committed.

Yampa Valley Housing Authority Board President Cole Hewitt, middle, and YVHA Executive Director Jason Peasley, right, listen to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who stopped by the former Steamboat 700 property to talk housing in August 2021 as part of a tour of Northwest Colorado.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The housing authority has made two congressionally directed spending requests to Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet, hoping to fund an $800,000 waterline expansion and electrical upgrades worth about $30 million.

Routt County received $5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. Updated rules allow the county to spend that money on pretty much anything.

So far, the county has committed money to Oak Creek for repairs at Sheriff Reservoir, the South Routt School District to help with broadband expansion and to replace two county-operated wastewater treatment plants in Phippsburg and Milner.

Engineering estimates for those treatment plants are expected soon, though the final cost to replace them may eventually exceed that estimate.

Harrington added that the county has been planning on contributing some of this money toward expanding the Yampa Valley Core Trail west toward the Brown Ranch property and other neighborhoods to the west of town. Harrington said the county’s expected contribution to that project is a half-million dollars.

The Brown Ranch is a 536-acre property west of Steamboat Springs purchased by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority in August 2021 with an anonymous donation.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“(ARPA funds are) the same pot of funds that we’ll be looking at to participate in any core trail expansion,” Harrington said at a joint meeting of Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County commissioners last week. “We want to make sure we don’t commit to one (project) and take us out of the ability to be a funding partner on another project.”

Last fall, Routt County surveyed residents about how they wanted the county’s ARPA dollars to be used, and a majority of respondents supported the money going toward addressing affordable housing, local child care options and improving broadband infrastructure.

In a question about housing, 63% of respondents supported spending this money to support housing, 17% were unsure and another 20% didn’t support using the money in that way.

Steamboat Springs received about $3.3 million in its own pandemic relief aid from the American Rescue Plan, but city staff have strongly advised against using this money for housing because of reporting requirements involved with federal spending. Staff recommend this go toward the new city hall project.

Steamboat City Manager Gary Suiter said at the joint meeting that the city has not received a similar request from the housing authority at this point, but an ask is expected eventually.

“I did have discussions with (Peasley) about funding, and he broached the question with me and said, ‘Yes, at some point we intend to come forward and ask the city for assistance,’” Suiter said. “I didn’t get a specific number or decide on a specific thing, but he certainly expressed the intent.”

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