The urbanization of Sisters


Last updated 11/8/2022 at Noon

At the distinct risk of offending any number of people, including around 100 or so who have plunked down $800,000, $900,000, or a million or more for mid-century modern or prairie ranch homes popping up all over Sisters, I’ll take my chances that others might also find the newest hot look incompatible with Sisters.

It’s the “Bend look,” I hear more and more as I make my rounds. And Bend isn’t Sisters, some state forcefully with apparent disdain for the style of architecture favored by city folk.

It’s not just houses that are changing Sisters’ facade. Peter Hall, who built the farm cottage I live in, is also building a high-end mixed- use office and luxury apartment building right next to homes. He says: “Think District 2 (in Bend) for how it will look and feel.”

District 2 is a 7.6-acre mixed-use commercial/industrial tech campus located in NorthWest Crossing. It’s industrial chic, all the rage in … well, Bend, and other hip urban centers.

I consider Hall a visionary in some respects, with a keen eye for design and visual appeal. He’s a Bend guy and his imprint on Sisters has a lot of Bend feel to it. That would include brightly colored front doors as an example. I’m just not keen on neon-orange or neon-blue doors in Sisters. Or anywhere for that matter.

The center of Sisters’ urbanization will no doubt be The Woodlands, where millions of dollars in infrastructure — roads, sewers, sidewalks — are nearing completion for the 200-plus residential development on the old Forest Service property along North Pine Street and Barclay Drive. You can now “reserve” your new home.

My neighbors, Bill and Nancy, looked at buying one of the small Woodlands cottages as rental investment property, but decided against it after getting a closer look at the design. “It’s very dark, very industrial looking,” Bill said, adding, “No distinction one from the other — it all looks alike.”

The look definitely takes some getting used to, if you’re not from Bend. Mostly corrugated steel siding, minimal steel and concrete stairs and decks, small windows. And all in dark, almost black tones.

The hotly debated new Sunset Meadows housing development by Woodhill Homes will have at least 130 single-family and three-story apartment dwellings on a 13-acre parcel bound by McKenzie Highway (Highway 242) between West Hood Avenue and Brooks Camp Road. The developers are getting intense pushback from Sisters folk upset, it would seem, with what they perceive as a project full of negative consequences.

Personally, I’m agnostic about growth in Sisters, finding it largely inevitable. That doesn’t mean that growth cannot and should not be regulated.

I’ve only seen one preliminary concept drawing of the proposed homes in the project and I’m — not to put too fine a point on it — underwhelmed. It has that Bend look to it. Indeed one of the complaints in the door-to-door handout by a group calling itself Help Save Sisters! Is that the “inner-city row-house-style development does not conform to the historic Western small-town lifestyle that was the reason so many of us chose to live here.”

Woodhill, the developer, did the Saddlestone project in Sisters that I found very well done and conforming nicely to the traditional (if there is such a thing) look of Sisters.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes. And while I have a long career in advertising and marketing, and am a reasonably accomplished graphic designer, I have no more right or expertise to complain about architectural diversity than the next guy.

Nor do I want to conform to the point of being boring. But there is a breaking point is there not? An inflection marker, where a town’s character ceases to be? I’m not ready for that. Not in Sisters.

Be sure and see my colleague Sue Stafford’s page-one story on the ongoing planning commission saga surrounding Sunset Meadows. Otherwise, while it applies only to commercial districts, a reading of section 2.15.2600 of the City’s municipal code might be useful in understanding some of the intent of city regulators in preserving the character of Sisters.

2.15.2600 Western Frontier Architectural Design Theme

A. Purpose. The purpose of the 1880s Western Frontier architectural design theme is to improve the City’s image and visual appearance. It has also been developed with the desire to establish City identity and interest and to attract visitors and tourists in support of a significant community economy.

B. Applicability. The Western Frontier Architectural Design Theme applies to all new, reconstructed, or remodeled uses in all Commercial Districts.

So, while so many are debating the amount, if any, of new development in Sisters, it might be just as valuable to consider the way that growth looks, aesthetically. Just sayin’.


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