City looks toward UGB expansion
Last updated 11/14/2023 at 12:21pm
There is a unanimous consensus on the Sisters City Council that the City needs to plan for expansion of its urban growth boundary (UGB) — though where and how much remains to be determined.
All five councilors concurred in a work session on November 8 that Sisters Community Development Director Scott Woodford should move ahead with a request for proposal to bring in a consultant to nail down the details of a possible UGB expansion. All agreed that such planning is prudent, and that the public needs to be informed and involved.
Failing to make plans for the next 20 years would be a “dereliction of duty,” according to Councilor Susan Cobb.
“It’s no question that we should,” she said “It’s our responsibility, I believe.”
Population projections from Portland State University say that the population inside the city limits will hit 7,108 in 2043 — more than double the current population of 3,475. Sisters currently does not have room to accommodate that kind of population. The City also has identified needs for commercial land. The State of Oregon requires action from cities to accommodate future growth.
The City could, theoretically, opt not to act, though no municipality has done that. It is unclear what response that would draw from the State.
“I don’t think I want to be the first city to test it,” said Councilor Gary Ross. “I can’t see kicking the can down the road as a viable option. I think it’s a mistake for this community, and I think it’s a mistake for the future leaders of this community.”
The City of Sisters studied and has implemented some “efficiency measures” to maximize the use of the land already within the city limits. Those measures have limited efficacy, and the most impactful of those measures appear unpalatable to local residents. Increased density is limited by parking requirements, and the City backed off the idea of allowing taller buildings to accommodate more housing units.
Woodford noted that some in-fill affordable housing projects could be possible with efficiency-based flexibility in regulation.
Councilor Andrea Blum noted that many residents ask why Sisters can’t simply stay the way it is. She pondered whether doing so — if that was possible — would lead to higher and higher housing prices that would price locals out, and skew demographics toward older residents, posing a problem for maintaining Sisters’ schools.
Councilor Jennifer Letz hit those points hard. She noted that Sisters schools can no longer rely on good reputation to attract and retain teachers when they can’t afford to live here.
“Our good reputation isn’t enough to keep teachers, which is frustrating,” she said, noting that the Forest Service also has problems with their staff’s ability to live in the community.
And, she said, “in the last few years our medical services have slid backwards,” in part because of housing affordability.
“I’m especially worried about the kids coming out of our great schools,” she said. “They are priced out the minute they graduate from high school, and that is not a sign of a healthy community. We’re not healthy right now.”
The consensus is that the only way to create greater affordability in housing is to make more land available for it.
That doesn’t mean that Sisters will grow significantly immediately. Mayor Michael Preedin noted that UGB expansion does not equate to immediate expansion of the city limits. And, he noted, it took 15 years to fill in McKenzie Meadows after that land was annexed into the city.
Preliminary estimates indicate that Sisters would need to add from 206 to 256 acres into the UGB to accommodate projected growth.
“If we could find all that land and annex it, it would take 20 years to fill,” Preedin said.
Woodford concurred, noting that “it’s a 20-year plan… there’s no expectation that it would happen all at once.”
The process of UGB expansion and then subsequent annexation of property would itself take several years to accomplish.
There was no public commentary at the work session, but a couple of citizens spoke to the matter at the regular city council meeting that followed.
Monica Tomosoy urged the Council to be creative, imagining what they would do if the city was an island or landlocked in such a way that it couldn’t physically expand.
Zenia Kuzma said that she is not opposed to well-thought-out growth, with real public input — but she wants the City of Sisters to address the impact of short-term rentals, asserting that some 20 percent of Sisters’ dwellings are unoccupied (acting as rentals and/or vacation homes).
Woodford and City Manager Jordan Wheeler are to come back to Council with a request for proposal, which councilors would need to approve to hire a consultant.