Stakeholders, public officials and concerned neighbors gathered at Sisters City Hall on Thursday afternoon in the first of several planned meetings to hammer out a consensus on one of the most contentious issues in Sisters Country - the potential further development of Aspen Lakes.
The meeting grew out of an agreement between Rep. John Huffman (R - The Dalles) and the governor's office in the wake of the failure of HB 3536 to gain traction in the most recent legislative session.
That bill would have allowed up to 480 residential units; overnight lodging facilities such as cabins, condominiums and townhouses; recreation facilities; and a motorcoach resort facility with up to 100 spaces.
It would also allow development of an additional golf course.
The bill called for development "in conjunction with a transfer of development opportunity" from the proposed Metolian resort in the Metolius Basin. Transfer Development Opportunity (TDOs) were established in 2009 when the legislature effectively disallowed the Camp Sherman-area development under a provision declaring the Metolius Basin an Area of Critical State Concern. The TDOs allow the developers to use their rights elsewhere under specific restrictions.
After the bill failed to move forward, Huffman said, "I agreed to work on the Cyrus Development Project during the interim with support from the Governor's office to try to develop a project for the 2014 legislative session that will use the legislatively adopted TDOs from the 2009 Metolian Development Project."
Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) Director Jim Rue told the assemblage that he is participating in the "expectation and hope that we find a suitable home for the TDOs - and that may or may not be Aspen Lakes."
Current law would not allow the use of the TDOs in Deschutes County for the purpose envisioned in the Aspen Lakes legislation.
DLCD is funding mediation of the process through Oregon Consensus, a program affiliated with Portland State University. Participants included the Cyrus family, who own Aspen Lakes, representatives of relevant state agencies, citizen representatives Susan Trask and Tom Thompson, one-time Metolian developer Shane Lundgren and Jonathan Manton of the environmental group Oregon Land & Water Watch.
A large group of citizens, some of them Aspen Lakes neighbors and virtually all opposed to further large-scale development there, participated vocally in the discussions.
Several audience members expressed distaste for legislation crafted solely for the benefit a single developer. Huffman noted, though, that such legislation is quite common.
"Every legislative session I've been in, there's been a 'one-off' with land use," he said.
Changing laws based on individual needs is common.
"Like Nike," Huffman said. "We do special things sometimes, don't we."
He said his goal is to find a compromise.
That may be hard to achieve. There is a wide gap between viewpoints. Manton said that the TDOs were never intended to be used in Deschutes County and that crafting this kind of legislation would set a bad precedent.
"My recommendation would be for this to just go away now," he said.
That is a point of view that is widely shared by neighbors who have twice seen special legislation to allow more development at Aspen Lakes come before the legislature, and by others who are concerned about the erosion of Oregon's land-use
Matt Cyrus reiterated his long-standing contention that the property will be developed and that the most recent proposal is the most beneficial type of development for the community.
"The property we own is destined (to be developed)," he said. "It will be developed one of these days. It's not a question of if, but when."
His sister, Pam Mitchell, noted that many opponents live in homes that the Cyrus family had to fight to develop in the '80s and '90s.
"There's a number of you that benefit from the fact that we went through this process years ago," she said.
While the process is apparently based around crafting a small "working group," it was clear that audience members intend to continue to monitor and participate in the process. Several more meetings are expected to be scheduled at different times yet to be determined.
The outcome is also yet to be determined, but the process may result in another legislative proposal for the use of the TDOs.