Number of single-family homes planned at Brown Ranch an early concern amid annexation talks

While many may want their own home, density is main way to deliver affordability

A rendering shows how two of the four neighborhoods planned at the Brown Ranch development might look with Neighborhood C on the left and Neighborhood B to the right. The number of single-family homes in all neighborhoods is an early concern in annexation discussions.
Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy photo

The number of single-family homes included in the Brown Ranch development was highlighted as a potential concern Wednesday, Feb. 1, as the special annexation committee begins forming an agreement.

As presented, the Brown Ranch would create 2,262 units over the next two decades, with 65% of that being multifamily units. Nearly 300, or 13%, of those would be detached single-family homes, and almost another 500 units would be attached single-family units like row homes or town houses.

But Steamboat Springs City Council President Robin Crossan, who is representing the city on the Brown Ranch Annexation Committee, said the number of single-family units included was concerning.

“My concern is that there are not enough single-family homes in this at all so a person can get out of any other unit and then into their own house,” Crossan said. “I think if you went through this community right now, people would want to have their own home as opposed to a duplex.”

The unit mix has been discussed throughout the planning of Brown Ranch, with some members of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority Board at times also expressing reservations about the limited number of single-family homes in the development. Throughout planning, housing density has been held up as the main factor in control of the housing authority to drive affordability.

A June article in Time Magazine centered on the unit mix at Brown Ranch, and the struggle that may be ahead to convince the community that multifamily units, and not single-family homes, is the key to affordability. 

Yampa Valley Housing Authority Executive Director Jason Peasley said the plan is designed to be flexible, with units being built out over time based on the demand for that housing. Still, just because people may want single-family units, making those affordable in the end is the challenge.

“Fundamentally, it is much more efficient to deliver multifamily units than single-family units,” Peasley said. “That is what drove that unit mix.”

The unit mix at Brown Ranch calls for 65% multifamily units, with the other 35% being made up of both attached and detached single-family homes.
Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy photo

While a typical block at Brown Ranch will include a number of housing types, each coming with different price tags, the roads, sewer lines and other infrastructure costs for each block are relatively constant. Increasing density is a way to increase affordability.

“That is probably the major juxtaposition of this project from demand wants, versus what can be provided,” Peasley said.

“While balancing affordability,” third-party chair of the committee Jason Lacy interjected.

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“Exactly,” Peasley continued. “We have the land, we have the flexibility to provide that, but we don’t have the resources to provide the housing for the people that want it and need it, at the price that they can afford.”

To deliver affordability, Peasley said density is one of the few tools they have total control over. He pointed to the 500 single-family attached units as somewhat of a compromise, saying that they hope these units will give future residents more of a single-family detached unit feel, while still taking advantage of density.

“I think over time, we’re aspiring to provide more of that single-family feel,” Peasley said. “But we have some serious headwinds. The economics are very real and we don’t want to over-promise to the community something we can’t do.”

The numbers in the unit mix comes from a study of the local housing demand conducted in 2021 that aims to gauge what Steamboat will need to house its workers through 2040. Peasley said the goal is to tie the unit mix at Brown Ranch to demand over time.

The uncolored blocks on this diagram are spaces that haven’t been planned for a particular housing density at Brown Ranch, allowing for flexibility within the development plan.
Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy photo

The development plan also contains blocks that haven’t been identified for a specific level of density, which Peasley said is part of the flexibility in the plan. Those blocks could be used to deliver more single-family product in the future, if that is what the demand called for, he said.

Crossan asked if the housing authority had contemplated selling parcels at market value so people could come in and build their own single-family home, with proceeds helping subsidize the rest of the development. Peasley said that is being considered, though likely as an “option of last resort.”

“The practical economics of delivering the pad ready unit are … much higher than you’re expecting,” Peasley said. “To then get some sort of delta on top of that, some profit on top of that that we can use to cross-subsidize other housing, it’s not a very good utilization of our most precious resource, which is land.”

The annexation committee didn’t agree to anything on Wednesday, but emphasized that the development plan in the agreement will need to have flexibility to accommodate changing demand over the project’s build out.

The committee meets every two weeks on Wednesday in a public session. The next meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Feb. 15.

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