No change to building heights in Sisters
Last updated 12/20/2022 at Noon
There will be no increased building heights in Sisters for the foreseeable future. City officials asserted that Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District doesn’t have the equipment necessary to fight a fire in a 50-foot building. Furthermore, they said, the current fire station may not be able to house a ladder truck equipped to reach 50 feet. In the interest of public safety, the increased height conditions were dropped from code changes approved by the Sisters City Council last week.
The rationale for the removal of increased building heights from code changes approved by the City Council appears to be incorrect. Fire Chief Roger Johnson contacted The Nugget on Wednesday, and noted that the Fire District does have the equipment necessary to fight a fire in a 50 foot building with the exception of a ladder truck.
“Many of the firefighting strategies and tactics are the same regardless of building height, and therefore the district has the equipment necessary to extinguish fires,” Johnson said. “The District does not own a ladder truck, but one is dispatched from Black Butte Ranch Fire District for any residential or commercial building fire in the city limits. That being said, the driving time from the Black Butte Fire Station to Sisters can be a challenge for ladder truck operations.”
The District fire station on Elm Street is large enough and has open space to house a ladder truck equipped to reach 50 feet, according to Johnson.
At their December 14 meeting, City Council approved TA 22-04, Development Code Text Amendments that will support the recommendations of the Sisters Housing Plan and Efficiency Measures Report.
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. Both plans contain a list of strategies to accomplish the plan goals, many of which involve amendment to the Sisters Development Code. The amendments in TA 22-04 are the first round of code amendments put forward.
The approved amendments include:
• Multifamily residential district to increase allowed residential density, and remove the floor-area ratio requirement.
• Zoning incentives (density) for affordable housing.
• Allow residential-only development in specific parts of the downtown commercial zone.
• Facilitate middle housing types (duplex, triplex, quadplex – latter two minor conditional use).
In their deliberations, councilors each shared their concerns and considerations guiding their decision to approve the text amendments.
Councilor Andrea Blum thinks we “have a unique and wonderful place” here in Sisters. “We are struggling with growth, but we have to be prepared, have to make adjustments to get quality people to work in Sisters.”
Blum suggested the City has to be nimble. She pointed to the importance of having constant review of changes made to the Development Code to evaluate how things are working and make adjustments as necessary. Blum was happy with the compromise making tri- and quadplexes minor conditional uses and not outright permitted uses. Conditional use means the builder must come to the City for approval.
Council president Nancy Connolly agreed with Blum about the necessity for affordable workforce housing. She would like Council to give direction to the Sisters Planning Commission to review the entire short-term rental picture. She would like to see a process started so that available housing is not tied up in vacation rentals.
“We all need a place to live. If you want gated communities and exclusive neighborhoods, then a public city is not for you… Change is hard but necessary,” she said.
Mayor Michael Preedin assured those attending the meeting, “There is nobody up here that wants unfettered growth. What we’re doing tonight (approving Development Code changes) is a release valve on the UGB expansion… With no increased density, an expansion of the UGB will definitely be necessary and probably larger than we want…. We never stop talking about livability, but we have to address growth… Design standards will be key to mitigating the impact of density.
“We started this whole process over a year ago,” Preedin explained. “We looked at every number, every line of (development) code. Staff did a great job. Planning Commission did a great job. Nothing we do is perfect because there are too many societal factors. We’re doing the best we can… What we’ve approved tonight is a one-yard run at fourth and goal.”
Councilor Gary Ross pointed out that in the past, single-family homes have been built on multifamily-zoned land, reducing the number of units provided.
“I’m not excited about what we have approved tonight but we have to compromise.” Ross said.
He, too, would like to see a cap on short-term rentals, sooner rather than later. He thinks 90 percent of the housing problem in the city is due to the high percentage of second homes and short-term rentals.
“We need to provide for people who live here,” Ross added.
Councilor Jennifer Letz was unable to attend the meeting, but her comments were read into the record and echoed those of her fellow councilors.
Blum reminded those present that the Parks Master Plan is currently being revised and updated. More developed park and open space can help mitigate some of the density increase.
Connolly concluded with, “The goal of many outweighs the opinions of one.”
The provisions outlined in TA 22-04 are encapsulated in Ordinance 526, which was approved by the Council.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from Fire Chief Roger Johnson.