Zoning framework for Brown Ranch approved by Steamboat Planning Commission

The Brown Ranch affordable housing development took another step forward last week after the Steamboat Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve a zoning framework for the project.

The zoning framework, which must be finalized by a City Council vote, is needed to set development standards for the Brown Ranch property should the land be annexed into the city.

The Yampa Valley Housing Authority submitted the zoning application for Brown Ranch as part of the agency’s effort to guide the development of 2,264 affordable housing units on the Brown Ranch property by 2024. The authority purchased Brown Ranch in 2021 after receiving an anonymous donation of $24 million.

“The land is currently in the county but is not zoned under the city,” said Jason Peasley, the housing authority’s executive director. “The process was a zoning map amendment, which is something you would do if you wanted to rezone a property, but in this case, it is going from nothing to something.”

After approving an initial annexation agreement last month, City Council is slated to hold its first reading of an annexation ordinance to bring the land under city control at its Oct. 10 meeting. In November, pending the passage of the annexation ordinance, voters will decide on a ballot referendum that would direct 75% of the city’s annual 9% short-term rental tax collections to fund the project, which would include needed offsite infrastructure improvements.

An essential precursor to the affordable housing development, the zoning adopted by the Planning Commission last week for the Brown Ranch area is based on a vision laid out in the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan, which was adopted by the city and Routt County in 1995, and subsequently updated in 2006.

A copy of that plan, available on the city’s website, lays out a vision for the area north of the Yampa River to the westside of the Steamboat 2 Metro District as a primary location, “suitable for higher density residential growth in the Steamboat Springs vicinity.”

If the residential growth does not occur in that area, the more than 17-year-old West Steamboat Springs Area plan states, “it will likely be forced to outlying areas such as Oak Creek, Stagecoach, Hayden and Craig,” a trend the plan predicts will “result in increased commuting time, road and infrastructure costs, traffic impacts, and split family life and other social costs.”

“An important goal of this plan is to bring about affordable housing for the working people of Steamboat Springs,” reads the document, which specifies at least 33% of the aggregate housing units built in the area be designated as affordable.

“That is really why we are here,” Peasley told the Planning Commission. “The West Steamboat Plan has specific goals related to affordability; we are blowing the doors off of those as far as this being a project almost entirely dedicated to meeting local housing needs.”

One hundred percent of the housing units constructed by the housing authority on the Brown Ranch property will be deed restricted for individuals who qualify under income and local employment parameters.

Peasley said income requirements for individuals eligible for the housing — which would be reviewed periodically by demand studies and include rental and ownership opportunities for apartments and condos along with attached and detached single family homes — would fall between 60-250% of the Area Median Income.

The Area Media Income for Routt County in 2023 is $75,900, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In addition to housing for the local workforce, the West Steamboat Area Plan sets direction for developments in the area west of the city, placing a priority on ensuring adequate open space and recreational facilities, the preservation of wildlife and the environment, and the implementation of comprehensive roadway and transit systems.

Peasley said the density of the proposed development is key to protecting the surrounding environment and its wildlife. He noted the current Brown Ranch development plans would see 45% of the annexed area converted into parks and open space, include space for the construction of two community parks totaling 39.6 acres and at least eight miles of trails, and its design would to protect the property’s boundary with the adjacent Slate Creek corridor.

“The consolidation of housing into Brown Ranch and limited sprawl is probably the No. 1 activity we are doing for habitat preservation,” Peasley said. “It’s the whole idea of the West Steamboat Plan to consolidate urban development adjacent to existing development.”

Planning Commission members questioned Peasley on the roughly $60 million estimated funding gap facing the city for infrastructure improvements needed to support development.

Peasley said the housing authority believes the city’s expected expense for the construction of the regional parks could be “trimmed down” by about $20 million, and “the remaining gap is largely a function of our existing problem with U.S. Highway 40 on the west side of town, which has been classically under-invested in for years and years.”

Under the proposed annexation ordinance, the city could deny building permits if it is unable to fund the infrastructure projects, and part of the Brown Ranch design will reduce trips away from the development by allowing for the construction of a grocery store, a day care facility and other entities. The ordinance would also require the housing authority to provide about $20 million for expected upgrades to U.S. 40.

“I don’t see a proposal coming from anywhere else to both solve the affordable housing problem and provide $20 million to the existing U.S. 40 project,” Peasley said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.