Affordable housing site requires zone change

 

Last updated 2/7/2023 at Noon



At their February 2 workshop, planning commissioners learned more about the proposed Heavenly Acres rezone and several Sisters Development Code amendments in preparation for the public hearing scheduled for February 16 at 5:30 p.m.

At the hearing, the Commission will be asked to render a decision on the proposal’s merits after a staff report and public testimony where citizens will be able to voice their support or opposition for the proposal.

Matters of growth and development have become a focus of considerable concern among citizens.

During the visitor communication, Sisters resident Cathy Russell made a statement:

“Unless the Comprehensive Plan was just an exercise to fulfill state requirements, something needs to be done to align the (Development) Codes with the Comprehensive Plan. I am suggesting hitting the pause button on all development and zoning concerning residential development. This is not about anti-growth. It’s about growth in a thoughtful manner. It’s about not just providing a roof over people’s heads, but about providing a community that promotes physical and mental well-being.

“People might have learned to ‘get over it and move on’ with new projects in the past. But this isn’t about a project. The density increase, without addressing open space, parking, and traffic, will impact our entire community. Without some type of provision for open space, the increased need for parking, and traffic impacts, you are changing not only the physical appearance of Sisters but the community environment.”

The Sisters City Council will review the proposal at the February 22 workshop at 5:30 p.m. A public hearing on the proposal will be held at the City Council meeting on March 8 at 6:30 p.m. During that hearing the public will be able to testify regarding the proposal.

The Heavenly Acres subdivision was created in the early 1980s in Deschutes County and includes seven parcels. It was annexed into the City of Sisters in the early 2000s. At the time of the annexation, Urban Area Reserve (UAR) zoning was applied to the property.

According to the Sisters Development Code, the UAR zoning was meant “to serve as a holding zone for lands that are within the Sisters Urban Growth Boundary and within City jurisdiction and to retain parcels in larger sizes until public facilities (including water, sewer, and transportation) are available and the land is rezoned for urban uses and densities.” Public facilities are all now available to the parcels.

For many years, the City has discussed the need to rezone the properties, as the UAR zoning was recognized as no longer being relevant or reflective of its urban status; however, it was never initiated by the property owners, likely due to the coordination and cost involved. Also, the zone district was allowing them to continue their operations unabated, so there was not a pressing need to change the zoning. Similarly, the City never initiated it either, as it was one of many projects annually competing for priority. The outdated zoning was not causing any issues with the landowners and any building or expansion plans.

The impetus to finally push forward with the rezone relates to the City Council’s goals of achieving more affordable housing in the community. With the availability of funds to help leverage affordable and workforce housing through the City’s Affordable Housing Grant Fund (funded by a percentage of the transient lodging tax levied), Urban Renewal District funds devoted to housing, and from a one-time, $500,000 contribution of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds passed through from Deschutes County for affordable housing.

To move forward with those funds, it was necessary to find an affordable housing developer and a suitable site to build it on (one which was vacant, about two acres or less, zoned properly for housing, and a willing seller). The City conducted a Request for Proposals (RFP) for use of the funds and received one proposal, from Northwest Housing Alternatives.

Concurrently, the City inquired with property owners in the city who might be interested and who met the above criteria. Only one property owner expressed interest, one within the Heavenly Acres subdivision. However, the UAR zoning does not currently support multifamily housing. To make the affordable housing project happen, a rezoning of the property to Multi-Family Residential (MFR) is necessary. Because of this opportunity, and due to the existing need to “clean up” the UAR zoning, the City is spearheading this effort as the applicant.

On behalf of the property owners, the City proposes a city-initiated legislative rezone of these parcels from UAR to another zone – either Public Facility (PF) or Multi-Family Residential (MFR). A Comprehensive Plan Amendment is required in these cases. According to the Sisters Development Code (SDC), a rezone may be initiated by the City Council or the Community Development Director.

A separate but concurrent application for SDC Text Amendments is proposed to accommodate the existing church and other uses in the Heavenly Acres subdivision in their new zones.

For additional information, a project website has been created on the City’s website at

 

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