News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Anatomy of a development process

Understanding municipal development codes and land-use regulations can be a daunting task — but the average citizen can get the work done. Everything one needs to know is spelled out in the City’s documents available at City Hall and at in Chapter 4 of the Development Code.

“Growth and development” issues are currently in the forefront of public interest here in Sisters. Three of the four front-page articles in the February 22 Nugget had to do with such issues – a new subdivision approval, a proposed new roundabout at Highway 20/Locust, and the role of short- term rentals in Sisters. Conversations at local coffee shops, watering holes, and other public gathering spots center on Sunset Meadows and the expansion of the Space Age Gas service station.

A new citizen committee called Citizens Action Team for Sisters (CATS) has formed, with the goal of helping to formulate policy for growth and development in the city. City meetings, which used to play to sparse audiences, now attract standing-room-only crowds, with many testifying during visitor communication and public hearings.

For all this activity to be of value and have influence, it is useful to understand the guidelines that must be followed by City staff, elected officials, and volunteer commissioners when considering development applications.

To help paint the picture from a variety of viewpoints, let’s visit one recent development approval:

Property owner

For 50 years, Richard Patterson owned and operated his iconic 350-acre ranch along Highway 242, where he raised prize Arabian horses, wooly llamas, and domestic elk. Patterson loved that ranch and the people of Sisters.

During his ownership of the ranch, he also purchased the 12.92 acres of trees due north of the ranch across 242. Despite private ownership, the public has enjoyed access to that acreage for walking their dogs and communing with nature. It was also occasionally used as a campsite by our neighbors in the forest. Patterson used to regularly conduct litter patrol and watch for any fire danger.

In the early years, the ranch lay outside the city limits and was part of rural Deschutes County. Today, the 12.92 acres are inside the city limits and were zoned multi-family residential (MFR) when brought into the city.

After 50 years of loving his land, in his 80s, Patterson realized it was time to cut back on his responsibilities, and he and his wife, Linda, sold the ranch to Glen and Jen Cole, who had loved that property from their many visits to Sisters. The Pattersons are now living in Bend.

The acreage across the road was offered for sale by Patterson as a separate parcel. His realtor, Pam Mayo Phillips, said that in three years, there had been two offers. The first prospective buyer couldn’t make it pencil to develop. The second, George Hale of Woodhill Homes, has been working with the City for almost a year to reach agreement.

Patterson’s vision had been to see the land divided into large-acreage lots with luxury homes, to take advantage of the stunning views of the mountains. But with the MFR zoning, that wasn’t possible, so it became necessary to find a developer who could make use of the MFR zoning.

When Patterson decided to sell his ranch in 2017, he had to pay $63,486.19 in farm deferred back taxes. The most recent property tax on the 12.92 acres is $18,728.62. Because he no longer lives in Sisters, Patterson was no longer able to regularly patrol the woods and watch for problems. He was particularly concerned that a fire might get started and spread to adjacent homes and apartments.

“I will be 85 years old soon, and I want it to be remembered that I was so blessed to have that chunk of raw land to take care of,” Patterson told The Nugget. When told about the opposition to Sunset Meadows, Patterson said, “I just love the people of Sisters. I agree with them. I want what’s best for the town of Sisters. My hands are tied. Zoning is in control.”

From a property owner’s perspective, Patterson had limitations on the sale of his property.


George Hale of Woodhill Homes had an opportunity to purchase one of the few remaining large pieces of land in Sisters on which to build homes. One drawback: It was zoned MFR, not single-family residential (SFR), so he had to design a development that would meet the density requirements for housing built in MFR zones. The development is called Sunset Meadows.

Woodhill will construct 24 attached townhomes and 36 detached single-family homes. Hale’s partner in the project will build 72-124 apartments on the northeast portion of the property to create the appropriate minimum number of housing units required on the 12.92-acre MFR land.

Woodhill has had to comply with over 15 conditions of approval required by the City. There have been multiple public hearings before the Planning Commission. Some of the surrounding neighbors have been opposed to the development as a whole, or certain portions of it, and their opposition did result in a number of changes to the master plan. The Planning Commission eventually approved the master plan with all its conditions, including a change in the phasing of the build.

All the changes, extra steps, and professional time required, has added to the overall cost of the project.


All land-use and development permit applications, except building permits, are decided by using the procedures contained in chapter 4 of the Development Code. The procedure “type” assigned to each permit governs the decision-making process for that permit. There are four types of permit/decision-making procedures – Type I, II, III, and IV.

Type I (Ministerial) decisions are made by the community development director or someone they officially designate, without public notice and without a public hearing. The Type 1 is used when there are clear and objective approval criteria and applies city standards and criteria, that require no use of discretion. Appeals are possible to Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).

Type II (Administrative) decisions are made by the community development director or designee with public notice, and an opportunity for a public hearing if appealed. The appeal of a Type II decision is heard by the Planning Commission. The Space Age station improvement is an administrative decision.

Type III (Quasi-Judicial) decisions are made by the Planning Commission after a public hearing, with appeals heard by the City Council. Type III decisions generally use discretionary approval criteria. Sunset Meadows was a Type III application.

Type IV (Legislative) procedures apply to legislative matters which involve the creation, revision, or large-scale implementation of public policy (e.g., adoption of land-use regulations, zone changes, and comprehensive plan amendments which apply to entire districts). They are considered initially by the Planning Commission with final decisions made by the City Council, with appeals possible to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. The rezone of Heavenly Acres is a Type IV procedure (see related story link below).


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