2/11/2014 1:09:00 PM Community seeks more restrictions on formula food
By John Griffith
Keep the restrictions on "formula food" outlets in the highway commercial zone - and extend the restrictions to downtown Sisters. That was the consensus that emerged from a town hall meeting hosted by the Sisters planning commission last Wednesday.
Based on an inquiry from Cibelli's Pizza, the Sisters planning commission initiated a discussion about expanding the current city code to allow regional restaurants "chains" into the "highway commercial" zoning areas (Ray's, FivePine). The city was proposing that the number three be increased to 10 to allow "local chains" such as Baldy's BBQ or Mazatlan access to the Sisters market while still precluding the siting of major chains (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, etc.).
That led to Wednesday's meeting held at City Hall, designed to gauge public opinion on the subject.
That opinion was clear: Leave the restrictive formula food definition intact - any establishment with three substantially identical establishments - and to extend that same restriction to the downtown core as well. Any outfit with more than the three establishments would be precluded.
The meeting began with planner Eric Porter's brief PowerPoint laying out the purpose of the meeting, and summarizing the current city codes. Porter then opened the floor for discussion among the 30 or so attendees.
The discussion was lively. The meeting time was limited due to a prior reservation for the room, and as the end drew near, former councilor Sharlene Weeds read a draft proposal she threw out for discussion.
Weed said, "Let's say we grandfather in the three formula food restaurants that we have in the highway commercial now. Then we don't allow any more formula food restaurants in the whole town."
There was substantial applause.
This sparked another lively exchange about keeping unique food establishments in Sisters as a draw.
"It is like what you are trying to do with the amphitheater - bring people to Sisters," said Mandy Strasser of Hop N Bean. "We want unique food things here - reasons for people to come, and that even includes pulling Bend and Redmond citizens here. If we put in a Cibelli's or Black Bear, that's not bringing people from any surrounding area because they already have one. It is just hurting us (Hop N Bean), Takoda's, and The Gallery if you get Black Bear Diner."
Restaurateur Jen McCrystal said, "People chose to come here. It is the whole destination travel for food. If we make it where it is a prestigious thing to be here because you offer creative food, and you are not the norm, then there is this whole tourism base that travels because of food."
Chris Wilder of Sisters Log Furniture & Home Décor expressed concern about the lack of code restrictions on formula or "fast food" in the downtown core. Current code does restrict the number of drive-through establishments.
"If someone (a business) goes away, someone with 4,000 outlets can drop in tomorrow," he said. "We are extremely exposed to losing our historic image. Taco Bell can drop in to the downtown tomorrow. I don't think that is what anybody wants. I'm not afraid of the competition, I just don't want to lose historic Sisters."
Another sentiment that was echoed by several in the group was: "When you give passers-through coming over the mountain different places to stop rather than downtown with their car full of kids, that is a problem for downtown."
In response to the inquiry from Cibelli's Pizza, the owner of a local pizza parlor said, "I own a pizza parlor here. I'm not afraid of the competition. Cibelli's makes good pizza, and I make good pizza. But I want them downtown. It doesn't help downtown if they establish out there (highway commercial)."
Tight restrictions could have an effect on some established Sisters businesses.
Community Development Director Pauline Hardie cautioned: "One thing we need to be cautious about, let's say we start restricting the downtown commercial. Sisters Coffee already has two shops (in the state). So if they go to four, (they) will be a non-conforming use in the downtown commercial. (They) could not expand or do anything to that building. Cuppa Yo is in the same situation."
To augment the discussion, Porter prepared a survey that he requested everyone in the meeting fill out. He will also have copies available if others want to weigh in.
"I think we are going to revise our recommendation to the planning commission," said Porter at the conclusion of the meeting.