News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The late great city of Sisters

It is breathtaking to watch the Sisters City Council try to obliterate Sisters as fast as it can.

Has the Council ever seen a plan for urban sprawl that it didn’t like? True, it usually requires “fixes” to these plans, but they are cosmetic, a kind of slight-of-hand to help ratify the fiction that the Council is acting in the interest of the City, while actually abetting its suicide.

What is the rationale behind the City’s actions? It seems to be twofold. First, as reported in The Nugget, July 24, 2019, the City produced a housing strategies report which claimed the City had a potential deficit of land zoned for residential use inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

This claim, based on no empirical evidence, was a guess. In other words, the city paraded a portentously documented report of little value to support a foregone conclusion which was a fantasy. It went on to say that this presumed deficit could be addressed by rezoning land, including the USFS land within the city on the assumption it would be used for housing. In short, this would allow the City to solve a problem that it didn’t have.

Then the report stated, “If codes are adopted that would increase density, the question arises as to whether that increase will fundamentally change the character that attracts people to visit and live here.”

The answer is self-evident.

Second, when pressed for ignoring concerns about rampant sprawl, the City claims its hands are tied, that State law requires it to approve development if it meets zoning requirements, and that the City cannot be selective. On March 11, 2020, however, the same newspaper published an article by the Sisters city manager and principal planner in which they said, “State law requires development to be concentrated in a defined boundary in order to preserve natural resources, working farm and forest land.” And they asserted, “the city’s development codes and zoning can be changed through a standalone process with state noticing, outside of review of a specific application.”

This is incoherent. Can the City change the zoning within its urban boundary or not? If it can, then why not limit rampant development?

Now, add to this confusion Laird industries. In 2016 the City and Deschutes County helped bring Laird to town by giving it, respectively, $51,000 and $50,000 as forgivable loans (gifts). Subsequently, Laird obtained $32 million in private investment to expand production. It also received $10 million from the French food giant Danon, (see Vegan Buzz April 28, 2020). On June 10, 2020, The Nugget reported that the CEO of Laird had purchased 31 acres along Pine Street and Highway 20, formerly USFS land, on which he intended to build 250 to 300 houses.

Indeed, he acted as if the City had already approved his plans.

In an unblushing exercise in self-promotion Laird has touted the benefits that it will bring to Sisters. Above all, it projects having 500 employees by 2023. This projection is used to justify the aforesaid housing, although these workers could not afford it.

Let us not forget that Laird is here to make money, not to help Sisters. Nevertheless, Laird’s special pleading — “Our goal is to create jobs that will help balance the economy of Sisters” — has been swallowed by Mayor Chuck Ryan, who stated (The Nugget, December 19, 2019,), “It is such a great fit given its low impact environmentally.”

He added that it was needed for reaching the goal of creating “a vibrant and diverse local economy.” How can a major industrial plant requiring 250-300 houses have a low environmental impact? How did the Mayor conjure up the need for a diverse economy? Sisters already has a mixed economy. The Mayor was simply parroting Laird.

Has Sisters’ fate been sealed?


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