City ruling is a final 'no' on shelter
Last updated 9/26/2023 at 9:34am
After weeks of heated debate and discussion across the community, the Sisters City Council officially said “no” to the application by the nonprofit Sisters Cold Weather Shelter (SCWS) for an emergency shelter to be located at 192 W. Barclay Dr. in Sisters.
The Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday, September 19, to adopt written findings by staff supporting denial of the application. Susan Cobb cast the sole vote in favor of the application, arguing that she believes the applicant met the requirements set out by the State of Oregon in House Bills 2006 and 3395.
Councilor Andrea Blum had voted in favor of approval at a September 5 public hearing, but she joined Mayor Michael Preedin, and councilors Jennifer Letz and Gary Ross in the denial on September 19.
Blum said that she had originally been inclined to approve the application with a list of stringent conditions, but had concluded that such conditions — even if they are allowable under the legislation that enabled the application — would tie the City of Sisters to the operation of the shelter and create an unsupportable burden on staff.
“I have concluded that I cannot proceed with approval of the application,” she said.
Councilor Letz emphasized that the Council is committed to working on the issue of homelessness around Sisters.
“This is a denial of this application,” she said. “This is not a denial of shelters.”
She noted that the process had been “extremely emotionally draining.”
The SCWS had applied to site the emergency shelter under a pair of state bills — HB2006 and an update HB3395 — that were designed to circumvent local land use processes to lower barriers to siting shelters in communities.
“The State bill was very badly written and incredibly hard to interpret,” Letz said. “Shame on the State for that — for putting that on us.”
Both Letz and Preedin indicated that there is broad community interest in finding ways to address the issues around homelessness in Sisters.
Gary Ross said that the written findings “helped me clarify my decision” to deny the application.
The most significant findings focused on safety and access to transportation and medical services — criteria for consideration laid out in the House bills.
“Of greatest concern to the Council,” the findings read, “sidewalks do not currently exist on Barclay Drive between the subject property and the intersection of Barclay Drive and N. Pine Street going west, or between the facility and the intersection of Barclay Drive and N. Larch Street, nor is there any street lighting. Moreover, there are no bike lanes and limited to no shoulders. Council finds this particularly troubling because the emergency shelter is proposed to be sited in an industrial area frequented by oversized vehicles that will be principally operated during non-daylight hours in the winter when visibility will be limited and snow and ice will be prevalent… Council finds that access to the site by walking or biking to the facility is not safe, convenient, or reliable.”
The Council found that lack of safe pedestrian and bicycle access; over-reliance on emergency services to provide medical services; and “lack of evidence provided by the applicant as to the operational capacity of the organization to safely operate the facility” mean that it can’t meet the criterion “will not pose an unreasonable risk to public health or safety.”
The SCWS could appeal the Council ruling. Under the applicable legislation, that means taking the City to court. After the September 5 preliminary vote went against the shelter, SCWS Board President Luis Blanchard told The Nugget, ““It could very well be that the shelter board is going to wait for another chance. According to the governor’s office, there will be more funds coming through. If this thing gets drawn out to beyond the time we can use these funds, which must be spent by January 10, then we would pull our wings in and continue work as we did last year.”