News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Citizens express concerns about growth

If letters to the editor are any indication, longtime residents of Sisters are saying that the level of frustration and concern with growth in Sisters appears to be at a new high-water mark. One such letter was from Sharon Booth of Tollgate, the same Booth who on February 3 posted a one-paragraph comment on the social media app Nextdoor.

That comment has so far garnered 98 responses plus 21 “reactions” — basically emojis in support of her position — which is one that is decidedly worried about the future of Sisters. Booth said she recognizes only one or two names of those joining in the thread.

Booth’s post included: “An alarming article in The Nugget…. So now that they’ve ruined Bend, they’re coming here to dump on us. The mindless greed is astonishing! What can we do to stop this?” Her post is relatively tame in comparison to some of the responses. Jeanne Brookes of Cloverdale commented: “Yes. Taking to the streets in protest may be the only way to get attention and make officials realize we have had enough of overdevelopment with more to come. I have written many letters and comments to no avail.”

It’s not that Brooks advocates storming the Bastille, but her frustration is clear. And so it goes, up and down the growing thread.

Nugget stories have spawned other social media group discussions, such as one by Ann Thompson reacting negatively to the proposed expansion of the Space Age fueling station on Cascade.

Doug Wills in last week’s “Open Letter to City Hall,” (The Nugget, February 8, page 2) was clear and direct in his disapproval of the way he sees things headed, using the words “ugly” and “monster” twice each in his first two paragraphs. Booth and Wills are far from alone in rhetoric that is growing in volume and intensity.

At last Wednesday night’s gathering of the Sisters City Council, who were holding their regularly scheduled meeting and a workshop, about a dozen citizens presented themselves. Their comments centered mostly around STRs (short term rentals), tree removal, and reduction in wildlife habitat as a result of what they perceive as misguided planning decisions.

Mark Dickens, an attendee, told The Nugget following the meeting, “We had a good hearing of our concerns and I think we have a core group of 10 to 15 who will work closely and diligently to articulate to Council and staff areas of impact needing to be addressed.”

He expects his group to offer substantive solutions or at a minimum a framework for more community involvement in the process.

Some in the assembly were proposing a moratorium on development until a number of town halls are held to gauge citizen sentiment.

When The Nugget engages in old-fashioned “men and women on the street” interviews, our takeaway is that “growth” and “development” have been conflated. Growth — the organic increase in a numerical base, e.g. population, housing units — is not the same thing as development — the change in use, appearance, location, or purpose, for example. There can be “development” without a necessary or corresponding change in size.

Wills, Booth, and others seem to be saying they do not like the way things are starting to look around town, with comments comparing Sisters to Bend. Or as Moina McMath Walton wrote in a letter to our editor on November 9, 2021, referring to the situation in Sisters as “Benditis.”

According to Dickens and Zenia Kuzma, also of Sisters, the solution may lie in a citizens’ initiative. The initiative process allows registered voters to place on the ballot any issue that amends the Oregon Constitution, the Oregon Revised Statutes, a local charter, or local ordinances. Essentially, an initiative allows the people to create new law apart from the legislature or a local governing body. i.e. the City of Sisters.

Dickens says that the idea of the initiative route was proposed, not by him, but in separate conversations with Councilors Gary Ross and Susan Cobb.

“It takes some of the heat off the Council,” Dickens said, “and puts it on the shoulders of the citizens.”

Such strategies might eventually run afoul of State land-use regulations. (See related story, page 1.)

Booth, living in Tollgate, and Brookes, from Cloverdale, would be precluded from voting in any such initiative by virtue of jurisdiction — only those within the city limits can vote on City of Sisters matters. That invites the question as how much say or influence people living outside the city limits can have in limiting or restructuring growth and development inside the boundaries.

Booth said, “We shop in Sisters, we are subject to the increase in traffic. Watching the trees get cut down and wildlife disrupted is a quality-of-life issue.”

 

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