News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Reactions to Sisters Woodlands mixed

Sisters residents who signed in and commented during the Sisters Planning Commission meeting on the Sisters Woodlands project on Wednesday, November 10, were fairly evenly divided between those who supported the project and those who had objections.

The proposed development would add some 359 residential units of varying kinds to Sisters. (See related story, at left.)

Via Zoom, Dixie Eckford asked if there is going to be any type of fencing around or within the development. The applicant responded the only fencing will be between the Woodlands and the point of land on the corner of North Pine and Highway 20 being retained by the Forest Service. The entire development will be open, with walking paths crossing the property. Eckford said she appreciated the applicant’s thoroughness in creating their application.

Gary Leiser, who has been a vocal opponent of the development, stated, “I have great reservations about this project.” He listed three major objections, the first being that the plan “flies in the face of City goals, obliterating any natural beauty.” He said with the Woodlands development, the new apartments being built behind Dollar General, and encouraging more industry on the north side of town, the city will be “paralyzed.”

“Who wants to live in or visit a traffic jam?” he queried. He was concerned that the Woodlands will require “a huge withdrawal of water.”

“It is ill-conceived and not in the best interests of the city,” he concluded, adding that the size of the project should be drastically reduced.

Public Works Director Paul Bertagna reported that the Woodlands will utilize water-wise procedures.

“We have a robust, powerful aquifer under us. In tests, it recharges in seconds, not minutes. We drilled the new well to create more capacity, not because we’re running out of water,” reported Bertagna.

In the staff report presented by Scott Woodford of the City of Sisters Community Development Department, he pointed out how the development aligns with the Comprehensive Plan.

Goal 9, Policy 4: The City should support efforts to attract businesses providing family-wage employment opportunities.

Goal 9, Policy 6: The City shall ensure an adequate supply of land for the needs of commercial, mixed-use and light industrial purposes.

Goal 10, Policy 1: To accommodate for additional residential growth within the existing Urban Growth Boundary as appropriate and necessary.

Goal 14, Policy 1: The City shall promote development within the UGB to minimize the cost of providing public services and infrastructure and to protect resource land outside the UGB.

Christine Funk stated that she believes housing in Sisters is a huge problem. She reported difficulty trying to hire a new employee because it is so difficult for new people to live and work here. She also hoped there will be limits on short-term rentals in the Woodlands. Rather than a crosswalk from the Woodlands across Highway 20 to the highway commercial area on the other side, she wondered if a pedestrian bridge would be a better solution.

“I hope it does what you all want it to,” Funk said. “Thanks for making a good effort.”

Project architect Kevin Eckhart said they have looked into pedestrian overpasses, and people tend to not like the circular ramps heading up to them. They also would have to be high enough for the large freight trucks to drive under. They are expensive and take time to construct.

Eckhart also suggested that short-term rentals could be controlled in the development’s homeowners association rules.

Tollgate resident Jeff Tryens raised concerns about trees.

“It’s admirable that you want to protect the trees, but it seems in other developments, even if the fences are put up around the trees, the roots get torn up during construction and five years later they die,” Tryens said.

Tryens suggested that the developers look at Higher Ground, a co-housing project in Bend where residents are not able to sell their home at a greatly increased price, keeping housing affordable.

Eckhart indicated that co-housing could possibly work as they want to be collaborative in their approach. They are also working with Habitat for Humanity regarding 10 cottage lots.

Woodford indicated that tree protection during construction would include fencing around each tree at the drip line and that the City would be regularly checking on the trees.

Eckhart pointed out they are saving over half the trees on the property. They have an urban forester on staff and used an arborist to assess the health of the trees.

“After all, we named it the Woodlands for a good reason,” said Eckhart.

The style of the structures in the development will have mountain influences which are appropriate for Sisters’ location at the foot of the Cascades. The Western design theme is applicable to the downtown commercial area but not necessarily in other areas, Eckhart contended.

Daidre Streeter works for Laird Superfood and said she is finally making enough money to buy a house.

“This development is my last chance to buy a house here in Sisters,” Streeter told the commissioners.

Ruth Schaefer, Suzanne Pepin, and Susanna DeFasio testified they agreed with Leiser and Tryens in their assessment of the Master Plan. DeFasio said she was disappointed that the City staff and Planning Commission seem sold on the proposed development, and it appears to be a done deal.

Pepin said that despite a wonderful presentation, the process “has gone too far, too fast.

“It doesn’t fit any of the City’s vision. It’s far, far too dense… There are many more issues. We need more time to work on it,” Pepin said.

Ruth Schaefer said, “Any decisions should be put off until there are more conclusions from tonight.”

Eckhart explained that for the last 31 months, there have been numerous meetings, hearings, articles in The Nugget, mailings, and other efforts to inform the public about plans for the Sisters Woodlands.

Commissioner Jack Nagel asked if the congregate housing designated for the northeast corner of the Woodlands could be considered for a houseless shelter.

Paul Hodge, partner in the firm developing the Woodlands, replied, “Absolutely. I have workers living in cars. The congregate housing is intended to be a catch-all for people in need to have an affordable place to live.”

The public hearing was continued to Thursday, December 2, at 5:30 p.m., in order to give the commissioners time to fully deliberate on the application. The oral and written records are closed.


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