3. The Brown Ranch Solution

3.1 Site History

3.2 Designing Through Community Engagement

3.3 Vision and Guiding Principles

3.4 Health Equity Initiative

3.1 Site History

The Brown Ranch has been part of community plans for affordable housing for 27 years, but public subsidies are needed to make the vision a reality.

Brown Ranch lies on the ancestral land of the Núu-agha-tuvu-pu (Ute) and other Indigenous Nations. Over the course of at least 500 years, the Ute lived seasonally in what is now known as the Yampa Valley, spending summers hunting, fishing, and soaking in the mineral springs before moving to warmer, lower
elevations for winter. Following a complex series of events including the Ute Treaty of 1868 and the Meeker Incident of 1879, the US government forcibly removed most of the Ute people from Colorado – including Yampa Valley – in the 1880s.

Little is known about how people used the land that is now Brown Ranch until the 20th Century, when it was purchased by the Brown Family. In 1908, Amos R. (A.R.) Brown moved from Iowa to Steamboat Springs. Upon his arrival, he found a thriving frontier town that was prosperous and yet isolated from the outside world. A.R. and his uncle, a retired banker from Sioux City, purchased the Merrill interests in the First National Bank of Steamboat Springs in 1909. The bank was in what is now the historic Rehder Building downtown. A.R. became the cashier, while his uncle was elected a director.

Although A.R. became a banker, he still loved farming. During the Great Depression, he acquired significant property west and south of town. A.R. turned the property to the west (what is now Brown Ranch) into a productive farm. In due course, his son Marvin began working the land, producing oats and wheat
while raising his family. In the 1960s, Steve, Marvin’s son, returned home from college. Steve took over the management and daily work around the family farm, growing timothy hay, alfalfa and small grains while raising horses and cattle. Eventually he built a family house, a log barn and a horse barn for his wife Mary and another generation of Brown children. By the early 1980s, the family moved into town and ceased farming but retained ownership of the farm.

Owing to the expansion of the ski area and steady increase of recreation and tourism in the area, the population of Routt County more than doubled between 1970 and 1980. The growth put a strain on existing housing, and the need for services grew. Developing the site now known as Brown Ranch for affordable and
workforce housing is consistent with the past 27 years of jurisdictionally approved community plans. In 1995, the original Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan designated the West Steamboat Springs area for future urban growth and affordable housing. The West Steamboat Springs Area Plan, originally approved in 1999 and updated in 2006, established a goal to “bring about affordable housing for the working people of Steamboat Springs” through a combination of regulation, density incentives, and annexation into the City of Steamboat Springs.

In 2007, a private real estate investment group based in Las Vegas purchased the farm from the Brown Family. The property became known as “Steamboat 700” and was the subject of a development proposal and annexation petition  approved by the City. That approval was referred to an election in 2010 and Steamboat Springs voters denied Steamboat 700 annexation.

By 2016, a portion of the land was the subject of another development proposal, this time by a developer called Brynn Grey Partners. In a special election held in June 2019, voters approved annexation of the 191 acres proposed by Brynn Grey Partners by 60%. However, the annexation agreement and ordinance expired prior to Brynn Grey Partnerspurchasing the land from Steamboat 700 and the viability of future development at the site remained unclear.

Then in 2021, thanks to the foresight and generosity of an anonymous donor, YVHA was able to purchase 534 acres of the property from the Steamboat 700 group. Since 2017, YVHA has demonstrated a track record of success developing low-income and moderate-income housing in Steamboat Springs. In contrast to past private developers, YVHA is a public housing authority; the team can leverage grants and other public subsidies like the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), with capital and risk management from private developers, to make projects possible. Working in partnership with the community, YVHA is uniquely positioned to successfully annex and develop Brown Ranch for longterm affordable and attainable housing opportunities for the Routt County  workforce. YVHA is committed to developing Brown Ranch by the community for the community.

3.2 Designing Through Community Engagement

The YVHA sees the Brown Ranch as a significant investment in the future of the Steamboat Springs community. As such, it is critical to understand the aspirations and concerns of the entire community and develop a process that allows the community to shape the vision for Brown Ranch.

Engagement Methods

The YVHA used a variety of methods and tools to engage with the community and capture feedback on the approach to development at Brown Ranch. These included the creation of a Steering Committee comprised of community members, a series of public meetings focused on specific topics (Focus Team meetings), meetings with various City agencies, correspondence with specific interest groups, and targeted outreach to community members hardest to reach through a public engagement process. Using this blended approach to community engagement, we connected with community organizations, businesses, and individuals, reaching over 3,300 residents through more than 230 meetings. Community engagement is ongoing and will continue through the development process.


The YVHA created a Steering Committee of 20 people to help create the vision and guiding principles for the Brown Ranch. The committee met weekly in the Fall of 2021 and laid the groundwork for the Development Plan contained within this document. More information on the Steering Committee is available on the project website here: https://brownranchsteamboat.org/steeringcommittee/


The YVHA along with the Steering Committee created five specific categories to organize community input. These categories included Residential and Non-Residential Demand, Project Economics & Stewardship, Infrastructure, Urban Design, and Sustainability. Focus Team leadership included a Steering
Committee member, a local expert, a YVHA board member, and at least one technical consultant. The YVHA facilitated approximately 30 Focus Team meetings between February and April of 2022 with both in-person and online participation available. The team heard from a broad range of community members through this process and much of what came from these meetings is incorporated into the Development Plan. More information on the Focus Team meetings is available on the project website here: https://brownranchsteamboat.org/communityengagement/


Recognizing that participation in public meetings is difficult or impossible for many people for a variety of reasons, the YVHA did targeted outreach to capture the perspectives of those traditionally unheard in public processes. The YVHA partnered with community leaders to gather feedback on their most pressing needs,  with a particular focus on those in the lower-income categories.


The YVHA also met with a range of stakeholders identified as potential partners in developing Brown Ranch. This included City agencies, the Yampa Valley Electric Association Board of Directors, Steamboat Springs School District board and staff, LatinX, and other local groups providing youth and human services, medical providers, businesses, and a wide range of community groups.


The Health Equity group is a unique Focus Team that functions in a slightly different way than other teams. Unlike all other meetings, the Health Equity group meetings were not open to the public. Rather, they were limited to a group of community members currently active in this space. The meetings focused on  identifying challenges and opportunities tied to health equity.

3.3 Vision And Guiding Principles

“The 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.”

– Brown Ranch Steering Committee Vision Statement

Guiding Principles

The following principles were developed by the Brown Ranch Steering Committee in order to guide the Development Plan as well as future work. They serve as the basis for all the work contained within this document, and are listed in order of community priority.

Click or hover over an image to view the guiding principle.



The Brown Ranch will provide affordable and attainable housing options for the Routt County workforce* in a timely and efficient manner that meets both the urgent and long-term need.



The Brown Ranch will provide quality housing that is sustainable yet flexible, modern, efficient, safe, healthy, environmentally responsible, and in harmony with existing natural systems.



The Brown Ranch will be both physically and emotionally connected to the community, providing opportunity for social cohesion and successful vibrant and healthy lifestyles.



The community driven process to design and develop the Brown Ranch will be inclusive, fact-based, honest, cost efficient and collaborative with all relevant stakeholders.

*Workforce Definition

  1. Workforce: Working for an employer physically located in Routt County
    • *One person in household must qualify (minimum of 30 hours per week)
    • *or Retired Routt County Workforce
  2. Local residents/workers that don’t meet the first work qualification.

3.4 Health Equity Initiative


This summary of findings reflects research and data from Health Equity Group meetings along with research and reports from multiple community organizations such as the Colorado Futures Center (CFC), and the Northwest Colorado Health Aging Coalition Report 2020.

Lack of Housing Impacts  Available Workforce

There is a staff shortage among teachers, nurses and social service workers due to lack of affordable housing options.

Routt County’s working-age population (16-65), both in absolute numbers and as a
share of the total population, hit a decade’s low in 2021.

The downward trend is strongest in the 24-44 age cohort.

Overcrowded Housing

Doubled-up households are becoming more common due to high costs and lack of supply. Overcrowding can exacerbate stress. Steamboat has a doubled-up household rate of 18.6% compared to Colorado at 15.5%.


High Housing Costs

About 30% of households are cost burdened in Steamboat Springs and Colorado state. In Routt County 28% of households are cost burdened.


Inequitable Life Expectancy

In Craig, where much of the Steamboat Springs workforce lives, average life expectancy is 75.4 to 79.7 years, compared to 77.7 to 82.2 years in Steamboat Springs itself.


Higher Workforce Disability

Steamboat Springs has a disability rate of 4.7% of the total population.


Findings Continued

This summary of findings reflects input from Health Equity Group meetings and survey findings, targeted outreach, and research and reports from multiple community organizations including Northwest Latinx Alliance, LiftUp Client Survey 2021 and Integrated Community based on their day to day experience with traditionally unrepresented voices within the community

Need for Safe Pedestrian Systems

Safe sidewalks, trails and walkable access to essential services are needed.


Traffic Safety Concerns

Traffic safety is a significant concern, and most collisions in the county happen in Steamboat Springs.

Food Access Challenges

Food prices are among the highest in the state, well over the state average.


Covid Inequity

Latinx community members suffered more than 2x the COVID-19 death rate, compared to white community members.


Changing Climate Inequities

Many people don’t have access to cooling during summer heat and smoke waves and there are high rates of ER visits due to heat.


Childcare Challenges

Routt County has a very low rate of childcare attendance due to lack of affordability, which affects people’s ability to keep a job.



The Health Equity Group reviewed the findings from both community input and data analysis, and identified six categories that reflect the health equity priorities for the community.


Housing stability is a foundation for health and quality of life, as well as a fundamental need. There is a severe housing shortage for the Routt County workforce.

  • Many families face unsafe and adverse living conditions.


Individual and institutional discrimination and mental health struggles result in poor health outcomes.

  • Mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence are common concerns.


Clean air and water are basic resources that are threatened by climate impacts.

Poor air and water quality can create and exacerbate health conditions and vulnerabilities.

  • Immigrants and older adults face increased climate-related health risks.
  • Crises caused by aging infrastructure are becoming more common in the most vulnerable communities while heating and cooling costs create additional burdens.


Access to essential needs such as groceries, healthcare, schools, and jobs is critical to health and well-being. A lack of mobility options is limiting access to these needs.

  • Steamboat Springs experiences a disproportionately high rate of traffic collisions.
  • Limited transportation options restrict mobility and negatively impact school and job attendance.
  • There is a lack of bus service to Brown Ranch and other west end neighborhoods.


Living environments, access to nature, programs, and community support can improve physical and mental health.

  • Routt County has the most expensive food in the state and low access compared to other counties.
  • Routt County has a very low rate of childcare attendance due to lack of affordability which affects people’s ability to keep a job.
  • Mental health and dental needs are not being met despite some availability of clinics and healthcare facilities.


Wealth and income are the strongest and most consistent factor for health and quality of life. Many residents do not have stable employment and are not able to access wealth-building opportunities because of barriers to loans, land
ownership, education, and job training.

  • Much of the workforce is overworked, creating significant stress and toxic conditions for individual workers and the community as a whole.