City staff urges denial of gas station plan


Last updated 6/20/2023 at 9:31am

City staff has recommended denial of the application for the owner of the Space Age gas station to rebuild the current facility. The recommendation is based on one development standard: compatibility.

A much-anticipated Planning Commission public hearing was held on the application on Thursday, June 15. There was no final decision — the hearing was continued to next month.

Based on the information in the record as of June 1, staff concluded the proposal has not satisfied the conditional-use criteria in Sisters Development Code 4.4. Additional information submitted into the record after the issuance of the staff report may result in a different recommendation by staff.

More than 70 people filled Council chambers with standing room only, and more people gathered in the conference room. After four hours and 15 minutes, the commissioners agreed to continue the hearing to Thursday, July 13, 5:30 p.m., at City Hall. The record was left open so the public can continue to send written comments to Matthew Martin at the City ([email protected]) and may testify at the July 13 hearing.

The proposal concerns the 35,541-square-foot property composed of two lots on the corner of West Cascade Avenue and South Pine Street. The plan calls for a fuel island with 16 fuel points under a 4,300-square-foot canopy, a 3,500-square-foot convenience market, and other improvements, including vehicle parking, pedestrian paths, landscaping, and a trash enclosure. The current three access points to Pine Street would be reduced to two.

The prominent relevant issues within the Development Code that staff used to make their recommendation had to do with the Western design theme, outdoor lighting, and Sisters’ dark skies ordinance, traffic impacts, and compatibility.

Staff said that the application did not meet the compatibility requirements because the new station would be too large, the scale not consistent with the smaller surrounding businesses and residential lots, and the design is not consistent with the small-town character of Sisters. The number of pumps and the size of the fuel island canopy are too large.

There were points of disagreement between the City and paid consultants for Jim Pliska, the Space Age owner. Even though the capacity of the Highway 20/Pine intersection is already exceeded under 2024 traffic conditions, Mike Ard, Pliska’s traffic engineer, believes the completion of the Highway 20/Locust roundabout will result in all intersections operating acceptably. He also recommended that Highway 20 access to the station be maintained with restricted right-in/right-out ingress/egress.

There was a difference of opinion regarding the need for issuance by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) of a new approach permit before the Planning Commission makes their decision. It is in process, but not yet approved.

The conditional-use criteria applied by the City require that the location, size, design, and operating characteristics of the proposed use will be compatible with, and will not have significant adverse effects on, the appropriate development and uses of abutting properties and the surrounding neighborhood.

The factors considered by City staff in recommending the Planning Commission deny the Space Age application included: generation of traffic and capacity of streets; civic facilities and utilities available; scale, bulk, coverage, and density; desirable neighborhood characteristics and livability; and any other relevant impact of the development.

Pliska’s team indicated that they only received the City’s concerns one week in advance of the hearing. The application had not been deemed complete until several weeks ago. They also said they have not received any direction from the City as to what size structure and number of pumps would be acceptable.

Another point of contention had to do with Ordinance 497 passed by the City Council in 2019 regarding service stations in the downtown commercial (DC) district. Prior to 2019, service stations were a nonconforming use in the DC zone and couldn’t be improved. The Planning Commission had discussed in 2018 the need to allow existing gas stations to renovate or remodel their property to maintain a good appearance, when Pliska indicated his desire to do so.

However, when the City Council approved Ordinance 497 on July 24, 2019, it was a large document including detailed comprehensive amendments to the Development Code regarding accessory dwelling units, public art, childcare centers, short-term rentals, electric vehicle charging stations, urban area reserves, subdivision phasing, service stations, and more. The question is whether Pliska’s plan to tear down the old station and build a much larger new one fits within the parameters of remodel and update.

Numerous citizens testified at the hearing, all but one opposed to the new Space Age station. Opposition cited a variety of reasons, most having to do with traffic concerns and scale of the project. One resident outlined how the proposed Space Age was not compatible with the Comprehensive Plan in terms of promoting livability, expanded modes of transportation including increased pedestrian and bike use, promoting energy efficiency, protecting the environment, and encouraging pedestrian-scale development.

Pliska’s attorney Michael Connors and traffic engineer Ard both pointed out that comprehensive plans are goals and policies for the City, but codes are standards implementing those goals and policies. In their minds, traffic is a policy-related issue not determining code adherence. Ard warned that if the Space Age application is denied, that will cause Pliska to be disincentivized from making any improvements to the station, leaving it to deteriorate.

A testifying resident closed by saying it appeared that, if the new station were approved, it would be “privatizing the benefits (for Pliska) and socializing the cost (for the residents).”

Attorney Connors contended that the new construction would provide many improvements that would outweigh the impact on the community. There would be better amenities, two ADA bathrooms, more goods and services in the convenience store, replacement of the old fuel infrastructure with two double-wall state of the art 30,000-gallon tanks and new fuel lines, future EV charging stations, increased fuel tax revenues for the City, and additional system development charges (SDC) for the City.

Pliska told the Planning Commission he is “trying to be a good neighbor by doing what is good for Sisters and for us.”

His representatives contended that 16 fueling points will ensure that no one will have to wait in a line to gas up. They said the station would not be the biggest structure in square footage in the city. They asked the City to tell them what size would be approved.

Planning Commission Chair Jeff Seymour noted that in his 10 years on the commission, this is the first recommendation for denial of an application by staff.


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