Steamboat Springs: A Housing Story

Story by: Gary Suiter, Steamboat Springs city manager
Photos provided by: Saheb Creation

As in recent years, municipalities report that lack of affordable housing is the largest issue they are facing in 2022 and into the next five years. In fact, most municipalities report that housing supply and affordability issues have worsened over the past three years. While this was true across regions throughout the state, the Western Slope and mountain communities are seeing the worst of this crisis and are also reporting that the lack of housing in their communities is also leading to a workforce shortage. Meanwhile, large municipalities on the Front Range reported that a lack of affordable housing has led to an increase in the unhoused population in their communities, with nearly three-quarters of these municipalities reporting homelessness as an issue.

The City of Steamboat Springs is undertaking a collaborative, ambitious project to mitigate the affordable housing challenges the city has faced for years. Find that story below the following State of Our Cities & Towns data.

When asked to name the biggest challenges facing their municipalities over the next five years, 68% of respondents named housing affordability, the most frequent response given.

While municipalities of all sizes were concerned about housing affordability over the next five years, this was an especially large concern among mid-size and large municipalities.

A majority (63%) of municipalities feel housing supply and affordability issues have gotten somewhat or much worse over the past three years. Respondents reported concerns with:

  • increased displacement of low-income seniors,
  • other current residents, including renters, workers, and young people, being pushed out of the community,
  • businesses experiencing closures due to a lack of employees, and
  • a very tangible stress being felt throughout the community by employers, employees, and customers.

Municipalities are not sitting idly by.

Many are also considering the best way to regulate (and tax, with voter approval) short-term rentals, requiring deed restrictions on certain properties, exploring public-private partnerships, waiving permit fees, and reducing development fees for municipal utilities to encourage development.

COVID-19 complicated the issue, with respondents reporting:

For those who have a housing affordability plan/actions in place, 43% report that COVID-19 negatively impacted their ability to implement their affordable housing plan or other actions.

Steamboat Springs: A Housing Story

Municipalities across the state are working regionally with other government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private sector partners to address the issue of housing affordability. And while COVID-19 exposed the breadth of the challenge nationwide, many Colorado municipalities – especially mountain communities – have been facing this supply and affordability challenge for much longer.

In Steamboat Springs, one long-time project is finally coming to fruition.

The Brown Ranch is a 536-acre parcel of land west of Steamboat Springs. It was previously owned by the Brown family, which included the late Mary Brown, former president of the Steamboat Springs city council, and past president of the Colorado Municipal League. The ranch was sold to a group of investors from Las Vegas and took on the name “Steamboat 700.” Around 2007, Steamboat 700 proposed a significant annexation to the City of Steamboat Springs.

Check out Brown Ranch and the surrounding areas!

It is reported that millions of dollars were spent on studies, assessments of water, transportation, environmental and other impacts felt by the annexation. Following a lengthy negotiation with city council, the annexation was approved, which included many community benefits. Of course, as with many resort communities, growth can be a contentious issue. A petition was filed, and the annexation went to the voters, who overwhelmingly rejected the proposed annexation deal.

About 10 years later, another proposal was submitted to the city council by Bryn Grey Partners. The vision was for a series of local’s neighborhoods. After 3 1/2 years of negotiations, and approval of an annexation ordinance, the issue again went to the voters. This time, the voters approved the annexation deal with a strong majority. Unfortunately, the whole deal fell apart when the landowners (Steamboat 700) and the developer had a disagreement over terms, and the city was once again left with this beautiful parcel of undeveloped land with no plan.

Then, in 2021 an anonymous donor miraculously paid $24 million to the Steamboat 700 owners for fee simple title to the land and donated it to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. There were two conditions.

The first was that the donor remain anonymous, and the second was that the land only be used for workforce housing for local residents.

A steering committee was formed representing community members from a diverse spectrum, who have been working diligently to establish a plan for the land. The vision states that, “Brown Ranch residents will live and connect in a vibrant, resilient, diverse, and welcoming neighborhood that provides a wide variety of housing options and services designed by and for the Yampa Valley community.”

The steering committee has developed guiding principles and selected an experienced planning team. It is expected that the plan will be developed over the next year, and ultimately annexation will be proposed once again to the City of Steamboat Springs. The community believes this important acquisition and planning effort will be a key factor in maintaining Steamboat’s community character, by providing nearby affordable workforce housing now and into the future.

The Brown Ranch is a “game changer” for the future of our city. It presents an incredible opportunity for us to collaborate with the county, the Housing Authority, and the community to create affordable neighborhoods for generations to come.

Robin Crossan, Steamboat Springs City Council President

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