News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Growth concerns a focus of City policy

Concerns about the pace and nature of growth in Sisters loom large as the City of Sisters works on its housing plan.

At their November 17 meeting, the Planning Commission approved resolutions acknowledging the Sisters Housing Plan Update and the Efficiency Measures Report related to the updated Comprehensive Plan. Following those two approvals, the Planning Commission conducted a public hearing addressing proposed text amendments to Sisters Development Code to support the recommendations of the Sisters Housing Plan Update and Efficiency Measures Report.

And concerns about the impact of growth were front and center for citizens and commissioners alike.

Chair Jeff Seymour said, “I don’t want to see Sisters become an enclave for the wealthy. There are things we can do now to provide for the next generation – not major things. The documents and the text amendments need to get up to City Council for their consideration.”

He continued, “This process is fluid. The only thing we can guarantee is that things are going to change. We just don’t know how.”

Updating the 2010 Housing Plan is a City Council goal for this year. An update will implement the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan related to housing and livability. The updated Housing Plan includes a detailed list of strategies and timelines to help produce more affordable housing in Sisters. These strategies may include development incentives, cutting regulatory impediments, adjusting fees, and grants or waivers to increase the availability of needed housing.

The Housing Plan is not a part of the Sisters Comprehensive Plan and is not a land-use document subject to any of the land- use procedures in the Sisters Development Code. It does, however, provide guidance for planning for the future of housing in Sisters.

The Efficiency Measures Report identifies and evaluates a number of actions that might help the City of Sisters utilize land within the adopted Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) more efficiently. That evaluation is part of the process required by the State for evaluating potential amendments to the UGB that may be needed to accommodate future growth. The strategies listed in the report are primarily focused on the efficient use of land.

Cities in Oregon are required to plan for growth based on population projections conducted by Portland State University’s Population Research Center, and the city of Sisters is forecast to grow from a 2020 population of 3,437 to 6,551 by the year 2040. To accommodate this growth, the city needs to add a total of 1,650 new housing units by 2040, which would roughly double current estimated supply.

One way to meet demand for new homes and jobs is to expand the city’s adopted UGB. The State of Oregon has a specified process for expanding the UGB of a city. Evaluating ways to use land within the UGB more efficiently (considering and implementing efficiency measures) is required prior to proposing a UGB amendment. Consideration of efficiency measures is an early and important part of this process that the City is undertaking after preliminary work completed during the 2021 Comprehensive Plan Update.

The efficiency measures include strategies like increasing permitted density on existing residential land, financial incentives for higher density housing, redevelopment and infill strategies, and authorization of housing types not previously allowed by the plan or regulations, plus several others. To meet state requirements, the efficiency measures must be considered, but not necessarily acted on.

Some of the citizens who testified at the public hearing, both in person and via Zoom, voiced concerns regarding how markedly increased density and building heights will change the appearance and character of Sisters. Others thought the proposed changes are too big a leap in one step, and urged smaller, slower changes.

“Pause and don’t rush,” was suggested.

The question was raised about how building with more floors in buildings would be difficult for seniors and families with children to navigate.

“We are not an urban city,” said Dixie Eckford.

Morgan Greenwood, a Sisters resident, said, “We need a variety of dwelling units that will be good for today and tomorrow.”

Brad Earl, who lives in Saddlestone, closed out the testimony with a story, the point of which was, “Make everyone a little happy,” with concessions and compromise.

During their deliberations at the close of the public hearing, commissioners considered a number of concerns raised by residents. Commissioner Cris Converse urged the commissioners to engage with the public and provide answers to the question of what would happen if the City decided to not follow the state land-use laws regarding growth.

Community Development Director Scott Woodford responded that the State could say we’re not meeting our housing needs. There is land available right now within the UGB that could be developed so we can’t just stop, he said. Stopping development would cause land and housing prices to continue increasing, creating more affordability problems.

Commissioner Jack Nagel fears that Sisters will lose its charm. He reflected, “We need to get our young people involved in City decisions. It’s going to be their future.”

Commissioner Vikki Hickmann suggested that as Sisters grows, that small- town feel can be maintained by encouraging neighborhoods to create their own small communities.

With a unanimous affirmative vote, the Planning Commission voted to pass the text amendments to the Development Code in support of the Housing Plan Update and the Efficiency Measures Report and send them on to Council, recommending they approve them.

Following the Planning Commission meeting, Woodford issued a statement:

“I think it’s important for the City and the State to continue to educate and create awareness of the statewide planning law regarding the reasons and benefits of the law. Based on that law, we are required to plan for the future — which is a good thing — so that we are proactive rather than reactive as a community when it comes to adequate infrastructure, parks, and transportation facilities, while at the same time creating a variety of housing opportunities for all our residents and workers.

“At the same time, we must balance the livability of Sisters and protect the characteristics that make it special. I think that balance can be achieved through thoughtful collaboration as a community.”


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