By Mark Dickens
Community Action Team of Sisters 

Choosing Sisters’ path

 

Last updated 3/21/2023 at Noon



The plan to super-size the Space Age gas station/convenience store on Cascade is plagued with problems — vital issues that deserve public attention. If you care about Sisters’ future, listen up. There are many layers to this story.

Pliska Investment (of Portland) owns 29 Space Age stations, and has targeted Sisters for their new mega-station, consisting of 16 pumps, a huge, brightly lit awning, and a 3,500 square-foot convenience store (more fast-food). All packed into a corner with existing traffic problems. Vehicles from this station will exit onto Pine Street — already congested with pedestrian, bike, and vehicle traffic. Not a pretty picture.

Is this mega-station how we want to welcome visitors into our charming Western-themed town? Does it even make sense? Besides dollars and cents straight to Pliska. They do plan to sell a high volume of low-priced gas, and undercut all of Deschutes County. That’s a lot of gas fumes, and traffic for our small town. But that’s just one layer of the story.

Our research (KTVZ News21) reveals that Pliska made known to the City their interest in investing in $750,000 worth of “improvements” for a remodel and repaving in 2019. Their purpose: “to enhance the appearance.” A facelift seemed a good idea, but there was a problem. According to the existing City code: “Gas stations in downtown Sisters were considered a non-conforming conditional use.” Interesting. The code in compliance with ODOT read: “No gas stations were allowed to be rebuilt, remodeled or expanded.” The only reason we already had stations was because they’d been in place before that code was written.

So, to accommodate Pliska’s request to give Space Age needed improvements, our Planning Commission would have to change the code. In a relatively short amount of time (three months) the code was quietly changed. We say “quietly” because there was little if any media coverage. Was the hush intentional? We now know the Planning Commission (unelected officials with Sisters’ future in their hands) created a major city code change in the summer of 2019.

Ordinance No. 497: An ordinance amending the Sisters Development Code to update certain review procedures; allow for service stations in the downtown commercial district with special provisions; modify lot standards and uses in certain zones; increase the allowance for administrative variances; and make other changes.

It’s interesting to note the Sisters Development Code, a plan to protect and preserve livability in Sisters (created with much time and careful thought) was hot off the press in 2019. But already, the Planning Commission had cast it aside. Not only did they green-light Pliska Investments to proceed with a gas station rebuild, they opened the door to “modify lot standards” resulting in packed-in housing developments.

Our newly amended ordinance also removed owner occupancy requirements for ADUs, which means vacation rentals, owned by out-of-towners, would usurp affordable housing for our working class. Their ordinance verbiage also left the door wide open with: “and make other changes.” Fifty-four pages worth of changes that helped launch Sisters into our biggest building boom ever (during COVID shutdown). Amazingly, our City Council voted to pass this bulky amendment. Did they read it? Did they understand the long-term ramifications?

Interestingly, some of our planning commissioners and our mayor (eagerly pushing the 497 amendment and over-development) were financially entangled in the real estate and building industry. Conflict of interest?

But back to Pliska and Space Age.

Despite the 2019 code change (the go-ahead to improve their station) Pliska changed plans.

A bait and switch? Instead of the original facelift they’d requested, they prepared to exploit this amended ordinance for their benefit.

Why not create the biggest gas-station/convenience store in Deschutes County? What a perfect location — right on the highway after 50 miles of no gas stations to the west.

They knew ODOT wouldn’t approve, but thanks to the City’s revised ordinance, the welcome mat was rolled out.

Not just for Space Age, either.

Thanks to ordinance 497, the City has laid us open for more fast-food franchises, big-box stores, and other outside opportunists just waiting in the wings.

Is this the direction our town should be heading?

 

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