Steamboat school board isn’t interested in donating Whistler land to city

Board members were open to the idea of swapping the land with the city, but needed more information

The Steamboat Springs school board is considering property the district owns near Whistler Park for dedicated teacher housing.
Routt County Assessor’s Office/Screenshot

The Steamboat Springs school board discussed a variety of options they could pursue to secure housing for teachers on Monday, Aug. 29, but board members made it clear donating district-owned land to another entity is out of the question.

Last month, the board discussed a couple options with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, including partnering to build units on property the district owns in the Whistler neighborhood, which is currently used as a park.

Board President Katy Lee said since that discussion, the city has inquired about the district’s willingness to donate the Whistler land and maintain the park, but no one on the board felt that would be financially responsible for the district.

“I think we are all in agreement that nobody wants to donate the land,” said Board Member Alissa Merage, adding that she would entertain the idea of a land swap with the city for a different parcel that could be leveraged for housing.

Lee said the board had five different options with the 9.2-acre Whistler property, which the district has owned since 1980.

They could keep the land in case they need a new school on that side of town, sell the land on the open market and keep the proceeds for future needs, build and manage their own housing units at Whistler or sell the land at a discount to the housing authority in exchange for dedicated units for the district. The last option would be a land swap with the city.

Merage said the idea of a land swap was appealing because developing the Whistler property will likely get pushback from neighbors nearby in addition to those who use the popular dog park. Building a new school on this land was controversial at the time.

“It’s a public open space and I feel like if there was an opportunity that the city would want to swap land where we could potentially get something west of town,” Merage said.

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Board Member Lara Craig said the Aspen School District has acquired units over the last few decades, and the district should be looking to do the same.

Other than ruling out a donation, the board didn’t indicate which direction they were leaning. Instead, members felt they had several questions left unanswered like what the Whistler property is currently zoned for and what options the city may have for a swap.

“I think we need to figure out creative solutions for staff housing,” said Board Member Chresta Brinkman. “I do think (Whistler) is a property that could be utilized.”

The board also discussed long-term options for housing at the Brown Ranch and the idea of signing a non-binding agreement with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority indicating an intention to swap land for a future school.

The agreement would essentially indicate the board’s thinking at the time to future boards and not handcuff them to a land swap, Lee said.

With an agreement in place, the housing authority would continue planning Brown Ranch with the assumption that a school would be placed near the center of the development and housing would be built on land currently owned by the district.

Craig said she was hesitant to sign any agreement without having more data on what type of school the district may need to add in the future. Lee said she would envision a school at the Brown Ranch being an elementary school and converting Sleeping Giant School to a middle school.

“I don’t think anybody here wants to rule out a land swap,” Craig said. “But I would like something to help me make a better decision and help me understand what the details of (an agreement) would look like.”

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