Growth in Sisters
Last updated 3/8/2023 at Noon
There has been a lot of talk lately about growth in Sisters. The rate of development in the last five years has been brisk, and more projects are under construction or in the planning stages. Industrial buildings are coming out of the ground and new commercial ventures are being contemplated. Additionally, there has been discussion about how to accommodate future growth — through infill within our existing boundaries, or expansion of the city’s urban growth boundary. For many, the pace has been too fast and not representative of Sisters. We’ve seen lots of expressions of these concerns in the media, comments at Council meetings, and postings on social media.
We want you to know the City is listening. “The City”— including councilors, staff, and the volunteers on boards — also cares deeply about Sisters; that’s why many volunteer hours of their time to help guide its future, and work every day to help keep Sisters, Sisters.
But a balance must be struck — between enough growth to provide housing choices and employment opportunities, and too much growth, where we lose the town’s charm; between zoning restrictions and property rights; between local control and state of Oregon-mandated planning laws; between keeping Sisters compact and denser or expanding our boundaries and keeping it less dense; between preserving our small-town feel and allowing opportunities for others who find Sisters appealing — just like all of us.
State planning law requires comprehensive plans incorporating required statewide planning goals and urban growth boundaries to combat sprawl and protect farmland and forests. It also requires study of our future housing needs based on population projections — ours are predicted to double by 2042 — and that we plan to accommodate that growth. So, we do a lot of planning. In addition to the Comprehensive Plan, we have transportation, parks, and utility plans, among others, to make sure we are being proactive and not reactive.
Can’t we just say “no” to development? No, state law says we cannot adopt moratoriums, except under limited circumstances. Further, the State is currently working to make it easier to build housing — citing affordability and houselessness and the chronic underbuilding of housing. We must also operate within the allowances of the Sisters Development Code — the blueprint for development. If a proposal complies with the code, the City is obligated to approve it or risk getting sued, or expensive appeals to the State Land Use Board of Appeals.
If we can’t stop growth, what can we do? We can mitigate the impacts of growth with good planning. Starting with the Comprehensive Plan, a guide for growth for the next 20 years. Its goal is to “maintain Sisters’ unique quality of life, mitigate the effects of growth and absorb it the Sisters way, maintain our special community character, and continue to diversify housing options and the economy.”
We already have codes to protect Sisters’ character, including a limit on formula food establishments in the downtown and along the highway to “retain the viability of our independent restaurants,” and the 1880s Western Frontier architectural design theme requirement of new development. We also have an ordinance to protect the night sky from bad outdoor lighting.
Can we make the Code better? Yes, and that is the best time for the citizens to effect change in the character of growth. We are continually updating the Code to reflect community needs. There is room for improvement — and we should have a community conversation about how to do that.
What can one do to learn more?
1. Visit www.ci.sisters.or.us to read the pertinent City plans and development code.
2. Contact staff with questions — we are here for you. Don’t assume that what you read on social media is correct.
3. Learn more about state planning law (www.oregon.gov/lcd/Pages/index.aspx).
How can you participate?
1. Sign up for email notifications on the City website to receive City Council and Planning Commission meeting information.
2. Attend a meeting in person or on Zoom from home. Offer public testimony.
3. Provide written comments to staff on a proposed development or code change. Your input can make a difference.
Like you, the City Council and staff want the best for our community. Let’s all work together as we navigate the future to keep Sisters the vibrant place that we all know and love.