Council will hold hearing on homeless shelter
Last updated 8/29/2023 at 9:36am
The Sisters City Council will hold a hearing on Tuesday, September 5, at 5 p.m. on a proposed emergency shelter for the homeless at 192 W. Barclay Dr. in Sisters.
A local nonprofit organization, Sisters Cold Weather Shelter (SCWS), advocates for the houseless community. The organization was awarded funding from the State through the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC) to purchase and operate a shelter at a permanent location within Sisters. The SCWS board has reapplied for the emergency shelter first proposed by the board to the City of Sisters on June 27. The new application is under House Bill 3395. That application took effect on August 15.
HB3395 specifies that a decision on the shelter application can be made with or without a hearing. The City Council opted to hold a hearing. Until this week, the City had indicated that a decision on the SCWS shelter application would be made by City staff.
The legislation does not indicate who should hold a hearing or what format it should take other than to specify that the approval is not subject to the land use process. The only appeal option on a decision is recourse to the courts.
City Recorder Kerry Prosser told The Nugget that the location and format of the hearing are to be determined. An agenda for the hearing is expected to be released by August 31. Asked if a decision will be rendered at the September 5 meeting, Prosser stated, “There will likely be two meetings, second date TBD.”
Mayor Michael Preedin spoke with The Nugget about the City Council decision to take on this issue, which was made during last Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
“With the enormity of this issue… we just decided with all of the discussion, the only real option that didn’t look like we were avoiding the situation was to take it head-on and have the Council make the final decision,” Preedin said.
The City could have brought in a neutral hearings officer to decide on the issue, but to Preedin, that would not consider citizen input.
Luis Blanchard, SCWS board president, spoke with The Nugget about the change in the process and what it means for the application.
“It was a surprise to hear, and during our meeting with legal counsel and the City, we were advised to reapply to make it clearer that we met those qualifications, but now the process is getting more and more delayed,” said Blanchard.
Mayor Preedin stated that he believes the Council and staff are working promptly to make a decision.
“If we were delaying the process, we wouldn’t have set a special City Council meeting for this. The new application came on August 15, and we responded to it a week later in a Council meeting,” he said. “Other than just this business with the shelter, we have many people’s business to do.”
The City will have a special meeting less than two weeks after the submission of the new application, Preedin noted.
Blanchard believes Council’s decision to opt for a hearing violates the state law as it is written.
“It could stand for legal grounds against the City according to the application requirements under the state law,” he said.
The Council must give staff adequate time to review the newly submitted application; findings and discussion will go into the special meeting from the staff level. Even though according to Blanchard the SCWS application is no different than their previous one, it is noted under HB3395 that the staff must still review the new application.
“We must give the public notice, and we can’t just throw together a public meeting daily. We aren’t doing it because of the applicant; we are doing it because that’s what is best for the citizens of Sisters,” said Preedin.
“I think the way the law is written is clear as to what’s required of the application process: Do you qualify?” said Blanchard. “Does the building meet the standards? Is there any legitimate safety threat to the public? I feel strongly that we meet those qualifications and had strong grounds for an appeal if we are denied.”
The closing date for the shelter’s building purchase was already extended due to the reapplication.
“Due to the hearing on Tuesday, September 5, the next closing date will have passed and puts the buyer at risk of losing the property,” said Blanchard.
After working closely with them in the process, Blanchard was disappointed in the City’s decision and believed there would be negative implications against the City for deciding to go the route of a hearing.
Opponents of the shelter don’t appear to be any happier with the City’s decision.
According to Eric Knirk, a shelter opponent, “Nothing has changed. The City is not prepared nor has the resources. The applicant is not prepared and doesn’t have the experience. They haven’t been transparent.”
According to Knirk, the City has yet to respond to a five-page letter prepared by an attorney and believes they should have rejected the application immediately.
“I don’t understand how you can move forward with a hearing,” he said.
The determination of the Council to take on this decision didn’t make either the opposition or the applicant happy, due to what Blanchard believes to be a dragging-out process. Knirk and like-minded opponents believe they should not move forward with a hearing and ought just reject the application.
Preedin’s thoughts about taking the issue on come down to being an elected official.
“We are not an open democracy where everybody gets to vote on everything. The reason there are elected officials is because we have a representative democracy. People elect us to make these hard decisions. For situations like this with black, white, and a ton of gray in the middle, I think it’s appropriate for the Council to make the decision and not have staff decide and not have a hearing officer decide it,” said Preedin.
Preedin noted that no matter the decision, not everyone will be happy.
“We will make the decision and move on from that. There will be movements from one side or the other, and we will see what happens the day after,” he said.
Mayor Preedin and the Council plan to structure the hearing as a land use public hearing, even though the application, under the statute, is not a land use issue. There are no guidelines on handling a situation like this; the City is trying to create a framework that makes sense for most people and resembles what people are used to. They will start with a presentation from the City staff, open up the hearing for public testimony, and then, as a council, hold deliberations before making a majority vote.
“We are trying to frame it so the public can comment and hear our council discussion as a public-record hearing,” said Preedin.
The Council is hopeful they will have a decision made by the end of that meeting, likely with a follow-up meeting to draft language based on which way the decision goes.
Editor Jim Cornelius contributed to this story.