After getting significant pushback from the Sisters community on City of Sisters proposals to construct an amphitheater and to renovate the Creekside Park campground, the City is taking a different tack to ensure that proposed projects are in line with community desires and values.
The City recently announced that it will form a committee to review and refine proposals for "community assets" that came out of an economic development community "summit" held at Sisters Middle School in February. The nine-member committee will look at the four top suggestions:
A field house;
A convention center;
A winter sports complex;
A science/art/history center - a representative Sisters Country exposition.
Mayor Brad Boyd said the committee will clarify the nature of the projects, come up with potential locations and rough estimates of scope, costs, and impacts.
"I want them to pick one and recommend 'We think you should take this to the voters in November,'" Boyd said.
Voter weigh-in would take the form of a non-binding referendum; no bonding authority would be attached. If voters bless a project, the City would then do the kind of work that was done in the case of the amphitheater to come up with a defined, "executable" project.
The committee will be composed of nine members; both in-city and outside-of-city applicants are eligible. Boyd expects the work to require three months to accomplish, with the committee determining how often it meets. Inquiries may be made to Kathy Nelson at City Hall, 541-549-6022.
Boyd acknowledged that this approach is being adopted at least partly in response to the widespread perception that the amphitheater project was sprung on the community as a "done deal" and as a way to ensure that any major project has community buy-in before it is rolled out.
"We did a poor job messaging that (the amphitheater) and I'll take that," Boyd said.
Similarly, the city council agreed last week to put the potentially controversial question of medical marijuana dispensaries to a vote (see related story, page 1). The council followed the pattern of municipalities across the state in passing a moratorium on such establishments, but is leaving the ultimate decision up to the voters (though state law, once clarified, could supersede any direction provided locally).
Medical marijuana is a cultural question for Sisters. Some see dispensaries as a legitimate resource for people who use marijuana to alleviate chronic conditions, while others see such facilities as a poor fit and possible detriment to a small community like Sisters.
Cultural questions are important. Some critics of City actions see the leadership as being out of touch with community values. That perception was prevalent in the controversy over a plan to renovate the Creekside Park Campground. City Manager Andrew Gorayeb acknowledged that the proposal could have been handled differently. He said that he did not expect the plan - which was not part of the City's existing master parks plan - to be controversial because in his view it was not excluding or pushing any users out and would make the park "nicer" and create a better experience for its users.
Many folks in Sisters, however, perceived the project as being imposed by leadership, another "done deal," and at odds with Sisters' nature. Plans to remove trees, especially for the proposed second phase of the project, drew considerable ire, as did the actual cutting of more than two-dozen juniper trees in unrelated thinning work in the park.
"If we had any idea that (the plan) was going to be a problem for anybody, we probably would have presented the project differently," Gorayeb said.
Mechanisms exist in City government to get broader input on projects like the Creekside renovation. The City has a Parks Advisory Board and an Urban Forestry Board - but neither has ever played an active role in decision-making. The parks board has no particular authority and the members of the forestry board aren't sure what role or authority it should have.
In the case of Creekside Park, the City ran the plan past the parks board on January 13.
"The advisory board did not play an active role in creating the plan," said Wendy Holzman, who sits on both the city council and the parks board. "It's an advisory board, but in the future I'd like to see it play a more active role."
The board is being asked to take a more active role in developing plans for the East Portal property owned by the Forest Service at the west end of town (so named because of its location on Highway 20, not because of its location in Sisters).
"Their next meeting, they're going to go out on the ground and look at the property," Boyd said.
The mayor said there has been talk about providing some interpretive signage to let travelers know what is available in Sisters; improvements to access to the bathrooms for people in wheelchairs; a dog park.
"It can be a much nicer entrance to town," he said. "We want the labyrinth to be used, we want to incorporate all of it."
The members of the parks board will have input on the nature of an East Portal project before decisions are made.
In the case of the Urban Forestry Board, it is not clear to its members what role the board should play. The forestry board is made up of planning commission members, though the two entities convene separately.
"I think we're trying to understand that," said Chair Alan Holzman. "Quite honestly, over the years, there hasn't been much that we've done. It's centered around National Arbor Day. We're going to take the time and due diligence and look into it."
Holzman said he "would welcome taking on more of a role if appropriate."
As regards trees, the City recently contracted with an urban forester - Dan Galecki of Spindrift Forestry Consulting in Bend. Galecki will be tasked with consulting the City on actions involving trees (including but not limited to removal) and will help the City develop an Urban Forest Management Plan.
"We will have some checks and balances," Boyd said.