News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Embracing Sisters’ natural DNA

In the October 20 edition of The Nugget, there was an article about the tight rental market. I was surprised it did not mention a glaring reason for high rents and home prices in Sisters.

You could call it good old- fashion supply vs. demand. But there’s more to it. Sisters city leaders, while admirably advocating for affordable housing, have made rather bizarre decisions that create the opposite effect.

For example, we have created an industrial park allowing for companies like Laird Superfoods, having a work force of 500, not to mention their families that potentially add a couple thousand people. Now, I have nothing against the nice folks at Laird. But I wonder if city planners thought about how this exacerbates the very issue they are trying to solve.

We know Sisters is landlocked, bordered by EFU and Forest Service land allowing for little room for growth unless the state and federal agencies give permission to expand the urban growth boundary, which is something I’m not sure we want.

Given this fact, did anyone among our city planners think about how a 500-employee company would impact our schools, sewer and water systems, streets and traffic, not to mention the demand for housing and added competition for our workforce? Companies the size of Laird Superfoods might be a nice catch for Redmond, but not here. Who will pay for this needed infrastructure expansion?

Where I live on the west side near the high school, the City allowed crammed- in housing on narrow streets (failing to meet the City’s own building code) in the name of affordable housing. I purchased my house five years ago and it’s nearly tripled in value, based on recent sales. The City also approved tiny rental houses and three-story apartments in the name of affordable housing that investors purchased, asking high rent prices. Sisters needs to stop allowing cheaply constructed housing in the name of affordable housing. It’s not working.

Sisters will never be able to do what larger cities do, having more room for annexation. Given our landlocked space, affordable housing is a myth that cannot be achieved. Supply can never outpace demand.

I am not suggesting we abandon our compassion. I love and support what Habitat for Humanity does. My heart goes out to those workers who are living in our nearby woods in RVs and tents. We need to continue providing winter warming shelters and food banks. We need people to step up who have a spare bedroom who feel comfortable renting it. And we need to support government plans that offer a hand up.

What might Sisters do different?

First, we need to embrace Sisters’ DNA. Face it, we are becoming a smaller version of places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Bigfork, Montana. Sisters is a tourist destination and a retirement community. We encourage tourists with events like folk and jazz festivals, the quilt and rodeo shows, along with a variety of craft shows. Add to that our breathtaking mountains and natural beauty with abundant recreational opportunities.

And retirees want to move here; they have the disposable income and come from the valley and neighboring states for the natural beauty and small-town feel. The result: housing prices will continue to be out of reach for many.

This is reality. Our DNA will never change due to our breathtaking mountain location and year-round opportunities.

So, how do we embrace our DNA?

Sisters needs to encourage small businesses that fit the genre of Sisters, like arts, crafts, writers, musicians, recreation outfitters, small-tech entrepreneurs, or internet businesses that can utilize freelance people who work from home in far-away places.

We need to stop building high-rise apartment buildings that junk up the landscape and put money in the pockets of investors, under the illusion of affordable housing.

We need to realize that much of our workforce will continue to come from neighboring towns. It means paying higher wages to attract commuting workers.

We need to support the “event” business bringing tourists and their dollars with them. We need to revise building codes in industrial zones, discouraging larger companies from locating here.

The recent Nugget reports surveys of tourists indicate traffic, dining, and accommodations are things needing improvement. We need to rethink building codes, allowing for more bed-and-breakfasts or small boutique hotels, more unique restaurants, more grandmother apartments. We need to rethink traffic patterns to encourage smoother movement.

Until Sisters embraces its DNA it will continue to struggle with false expectations and unrealistic planning decisions.


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