State land-use laws impact Sisters’ future development


Last updated 11/8/2022 at Noon

Sisters is home to many residents who moved here from other states. They, like some longtime Oregonians, may not be aware of or understand Oregon’s unique land-use planning program, which guides what Sisters can and cannot do when it comes to growth and development.

Oregon’s land-use planning program was established to provide a balance of needs, including protecting farm and forest land, while also planning for organized urbanized growth. In 1973, then-Governor Tom McCall inspred the State to enact land use legislation with these words:

“We’re dismayed that we have not stopped misuse of the land, which is our most valuable finite natural resource… We’re in dire need of state land use policy, dire need of new subdivision law and new standards for planning and zoning by the counties and cities of our state… The interests of Oregon for today and in the future must be protected from the grasping wastrels of the land. We must respect another truism – that unlimited and unregulated growth leads inexorably to a lowered quality of life.”

At that time, farming and timber harvesting were the state’s largest industries and many Oregonians thought eventual development of land for new homes and industries would displace these economic engines.

Since the passage in 1973 of the Oregon Land Use Act (Senate Bill 100) by the legislature, Oregon has maintained a strong statewide program for land use planning, overseen by the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC). The foundation of that program is a set of 19 statewide planning goals (14 of which apply to Sisters). The goals deal with land use, development, housing, transportation, and conservation of natural resources, among others. Under the program, Oregon’s statewide goals are achieved through local comprehensive planning, which much be consistent with the state’s goals.

Sisters just recently completed its latest update to the City’s comprehensive plan (available on the City website). With population forecasted to be doubled in Sisters by 2040, the City has been studying the buildable lands available within the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), the housing inventory needed to meet the growing population needs, and the efficiency measures that can be instituted to meet those needs prior to consideration of enlarging the UGB. The state requires the efficiency measures be studied before new land can be brought into the UGB.

Efficiency measures can include things like providing density bonuses for developers as an incentive to achieve certain community planning goals, allowing for smaller residential lots, encouraging infill and redevelopment, permitting accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family residential zones, increasing allowable residential densities, and allowing duplexes, townhomes, and condominiums in single-family zones.

No city, county, or special district may adopt a moratorium on construction or land development unless it first provides written notice to the Department of Land Conservation and Development at least 45 days prior to the final public hearing to be held to consider the adoption of the moratorium, makes written findings justifying the need for the moratorium, and holds a public hearing on the adoption of the moratorium, and the findings which support the moratorium.

A moratorium not based on a shortage of public facilities (infrastructure) may be justified only by a demonstration of compelling need, such as the application of existing development criteria is inadequate to prevent irrevocable public harm from development in affected geographical areas. Moratoriums are very rarely used in the state, most recently having to do with marijuana grows.

The Sisters Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Thursday, November 17, at 5:30 p.m., to hear the City’s application to make text amendments to the Development Code which would allow some of the above efficiency measures.


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