Steamboat Springs officials table $5.25 million land purchase for regional park

Steamboat Springs officials are considering the purchase of the 187-acre Slate Creek Parcel as a way to construct a regional park on the land.
Tom Ross

Earlier this month, city officials announced they were negotiating the purchase of 187 acres of land, known as the Slate Creek Parcel, to allow for the construction of a regional park west of downtown Steamboat.

Last week, City Council members threw water on the deal, voting unanimously Tuesday night to table a proposed ordinance for the $5.25 million purchase until Oct. 10.

The owner of the land, Slate Creek LLC, is represented by Eric James Conner and Dan Foley, and purchased the property in 2019 for $600,000, according to the Routt County Assessor’s Office.

Under preliminary plans presented by Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby, about 95 acres of the Slate Creek Parcel would be designated as open space with two roughly 45-acre pieces of the property set out for the regional park and land that can be used for future development or uses.

Cosby noted the purchase of the land would not only help see the regional park’s construction, but it would also preserve the Slate Creek corridor with respect to wildlife and the creek, which feeds into the Yampa River.

“In staff’s mind it is not just the regional park; in fact the preservation of Slate Creek and this 90-ish acres of open space is the primary driver,” Cosby said.

City Finance Director Kim Weber laid out three options for the city to purchase the property. The first would draw funding from Steamboat’s roughly $10 million unassigned general fund balance, which would reduce the available funding for other capital improvement projects including money needed for seasonal transit service costs and for various employee housing projects.

The second option could see the city using general fund money along with $1.7 million of its short-term rental revenue to purchase the land. The third option would be for the city to not purchase the land at all, according to Weber, who noted the opportunity for the city to acquire the land is rare.

“I think this does seem like a really great opportunity and a little convenient how it popped up as we were searching for a place to call a regional park, but I think we need to set aside this money for housing or the current housing projects we have in our capital improvement projects that we can have for next year,” said council member Dakotah McGinlay.

“I would love nothing more than to close the Brown Ranch gap, and this is $5 million that could be allocated to that, so I am not supporting this project right now,” McGinlay added.

The idea for a regional park in Steamboat stems from ongoing negotiations between the city and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority for the development of the 534-acre Brown Ranch property, a proposed workforce housing development that could bring more than 2,000 new housing units online for qualified residents earning between 60% and 258% of the area median income.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income of a family in Steamboat Springs was $80,660 and $119,900 in Routt County in 2020. 

Officials had included the construction of a regional park within the boundaries of Brown Ranch in the city’s annexation agreement negotiation with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority before the sides agreed to remove the plans last month in lieu of an “alternative option,” which is to purchase the Slate Creek Parcel located between Brown Ranch and the Bob Adams Airport.

Council member Michael Buccino said he felt the $5.25 million price for the purchase is “exorbitant” given the property was purchased for $600,000 four years ago.

“At $22,000 an acre and half of it we can’t even use, it is the equivalent of $44,000 an acre and that is just a lot of money for us to sit idle when we have so many other projects to do,” Buccino said, referring to a list of more than 150 capital improvement projects that Weber presented two weeks ago.

“I don’t want to jeopardize all the other projects that we have in our capital fund right now,” he added.

Council member Joella West noted an appraisal of the property would be forthcoming.

“If for any reason Brown Ranch doesn’t go forward, then I would love for us to own it … this would be a wonderful piece of property for the city to own, but maybe like many wonderful things we all can own, this might not be the time to spend that,” West said.

City Council President Robin Crossan felt comfortable tabling the conversation until October but did not rule out her support for the purchase.

“When you have the opportunity to buy land, you buy it because you might not ever have that again and then down the road it goes away from you,” Crossan said. “And you will never get it back.”

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