Talks to annex Brown Ranch into Steamboat Springs to start this fall

Early goal would have annexation agreement before Steamboat voters in November 2023

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

Steamboat Springs City Council expressed a desire in a work session last week to start talks to annex the Brown Ranch into the city limits this year. That process would hopefully wrap up in time for voters to consider annexation in November 2023.

At the Tuesday, Sept. 13, work session, Council President Robin Crossan asked city staff to start with when a ballot question would need to be referred to voters and work their way back to identify key dates where parts of a potential annexation agreement would need to be complete.

That would mean an annexation agreement would likely need to be completed by the end of August — a goal that lives in the shadow of previous annexation efforts for this property, the last of which took three years to complete. 

“If we could have the agreement ready before next November, so that a new group of councilors is not rethinking it, I think that’s what our goal should be,” Crossan said. “And we should work the timeline back from there.”

“I will tell you, that is quite aggressive,” said council member Heather Sloop.

The timeline talk came in a part of the work session titled “Annexation 101,” giving council a broad overview of how the process will need to play out. Annexation does not require council to consult the city’s voters, though citizens can petition it onto the ballot, as it was in 2019.

Council has shown a desire to send this annexation consideration to voters anyway, seeing a referendum petition as inevitable if they didn’t.

Just Crossan and Sloop were on council when annexation was considered for the West Steamboat Neighborhoods in 2019 — land that includes what is now the Brown Ranch. Sloop said the initial hopes for that annexation agreement had been to complete it within nine months, but it ended up being a much longer process.

Still, that agreement should help inform and potentially speed up the process for Brown Ranch annexation.

“Ultimately, (annexation) is all about what steps are needed to get people into housing,” said Jason Peasley, executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.

Crossan outlined six areas that will need to be discussed in an annexation agreement: water, sewer, roads, transportation, parks and open space, and overall operations.

Questions that need answers include: Would the city’s plow route be extended or would there be some sort of homeowners association that would contract plows? Will the city’s Parks and Recreation Department be asked to maintain new park space in the Brown Ranch? How much city revenue would a Brown Ranch build out produce?

The housing authority plans to present a detailed Brown Ranch plan to the community on Oct. 6, after which Peasley said he expects to present that plan to council. Peasley said he expected to further discuss the annexation timeline then, though his current thinking aligned with what Crossan had laid out.

“We would like to have that annexation process finished in sort of the timeline that (Crossan) talked about,” Peasley said. “And also finish up infrastructure design, first plat, all of that so we can get shovels in the ground in 2024.”

Peasley said the reasons for this timeline are twofold. Being ready to go in 2024 is advantageous to getting funding from the state’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act, parts of which have been designated for projects like Brown Ranch.

The other reason would be to deliver housing as fast as possible to a community currently short about 1,400 units. Peasley said there are opportunities to speed up the process as well as opportunities to slow it down.

“As we’ve seen with the West Steamboat annexation, it was supposed to be nine months, it took three years,” Peasley said. “That’s obviously not very acceptable, given our current housing situation.”

Still, council members Sloop and Crossan said there was not a hard stop when all of this had to be decided by, despite talks about a timeline. Crossan emphasized that council has other city business it needs to stay focused on and Sloop said potentially fleeting funding opportunities shouldn’t be prioritized over the quality of the agreement.

“I personally don’t want to create an emergent situation because of potential funding, which we may or may not get,” Sloop said. “I want to make sure that we develop an annexation that our community supports for 40 years.”

Perhaps the key difference for this upcoming annexation effort from those in the past is the party on the other side of the table, the housing authority instead of a private developer. When City Attorney Dan Foote referred to the housing authority as a counterparty in annexation, Peasley interjected to say they are a “partner.”

Council member Dakotah McGinlay said she appreciated Sloop’s and Crossan’s experience through the annexation process and wanted to lean on their expertise, but also wanted to “keep an open mind.”

“This is a new plan, a new partner,” McGinlay said. “We’re going to have to sacrifice, like we’ve done this year with short term rentals. We sacrificed a lot of time, but we made progress. As long as we keep those things in mind, I think that we can come together.”

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