Development wins conditional approval
Last updated 1/24/2023 at Noon
The controversial Sunset Meadows development can go forward — if developers meet conditions of approval.
Woodhill Homes’ application for their Master Plan development Sunset Meadows, on a 12.92-acre property in the multi-family residential district (MFR) at 15510 McKenzie Highway on the west side of town, won approval — with conditions — from the Planning Commission at their January 19 meeting.
The condition of approval requires the applicant to revise their phasing order on the project. The original plan called for five phases, with construction of apartments being phase five. The commissioners added a condition of approval that requires the phasing to be changed, making the apartments phase three of the development for the city to get the type of housing needed sooner.
Public hearings on the application were held October 20, November 3, and December 8, 2022, with extensive testimony against the development or portions of it coming from Sisters residents, particularly those who live in The Pines, which backs up to the proposed development.
The applicant submitted a revised drawing, which included some of the changes requested by the neighbors. The changes were not significant enough to require a new master plan.
One of the commissioners asked if any of the development contained affordable housing units. There were no specific terms attached to the property requiring any affordable housing, and none were included in the master plan.
Because the land is zoned multi-family residential, the builder has to provide a particular housing density, and the MFR apartments are necessary to meet the required level of density as required by the state. According to Matthew Martin, principal planner for the City, that piece of property has been zoned MFR as far back as 2003.
The Planning Commission can approve with conditions, or deny an application based on whether the project complies with the City of Sisters Development Code. There was considerable conversation among the commissioners about the role of the Comprehensive Plan in relation to the Development Code. The Comprehensive Plan states that new housing must be compatible with the existing neighborhood.
What became apparent is that work needs to be done on the Development Code to bring it more in line with the newly updated Comprehensive Plan. That is a time-consuming project, requiring staff time that currently isn’t available.
During their deliberations, the four commissioners who were voting each shared their thoughts.
Cris Converse, citing her longtime residency in Sisters, said back in the 1970s locals were concerned whenever a new project or new building was proposed. The project happened and life went on. She contended that Sisters isn’t Sisters because of its buildings, but rather because of its people, who connect with each other to form community.
She said her job as a commissioner is to make decisions that come before the Planning Commission based on the Development Code. She pointed out that the applicant had listened to the public and made a number of changes.
Commission Chairman Jeff Seymour was candid in his comments. He noted that Woodhill Homes has a good reputation and builds a good product, although he isn’t sure it’s right for Sisters. He was glad the applicant had made some changes and the project meets the Development Code requirements.
Seymour said the course of this approval process served as an example of why communication with neighbors going into a project is so important. He said the lack of detail for the MFR apartments provides uncertainty that makes him nervous.
He sees the applicable criteria in the Comprehensive Plan regarding compatibility of proposed housing with existing neighbors as policy that needs to be followed.
Vikki Hickmann also raised the question of whether the Comprehensive Plan is the guiding document in decisions, and whether it has precedence over the Development Code. She also wondered if each project is evaluated on its own merits, and, if interpretations change over time, how that impacts the argument of equal protection raised by the applicant.
Woodhill Homes can appeal the decision to the City Council, or they could choose to accept the conditions to change the phasing, or they could walk away and not develop the project.
Only four commissioners participated in the Sunset Meadows deliberation. Tom Ries was not in attendance. Newly appointed commissioner Jeremy Dickman recused himself due to his not being part of any of the previous hearings. Scot Davidson recused himself and left the chamber.
“I was not directed to recuse,” Davidson told The Nugget. “This was a personal decision brought about by the rise of my bias through the course of the extended hearing. I couldn’t honestly say that I could put this aside and contribute to the decision based on the provisions in code alone.”
Principal Planner Martin evaluated the total process of hearings and deliberations as a “robust, lengthy, complex process in which the Planning Commission weighed the evidence and public input and came to the conclusion they did with a great deal of consideration and deliberation.”
In other business before the Planning Commission, Jeff Seymour was again chosen to serve as chair, and Cris Converse will repeat as vice chair.
Seymour recognized former commissioner Jack Nagel, who stepped down after serving for eight years, saying he helped to shape the future of Sisters.
He acknowledged Nagel as a 40-year resident of Sisters who has been a constant supporter. Seymour thanked Nagel for his respectful service.