With a vote of six ayes and Commissioner Jack Nagel the sole nay vote, the Sisters Planning Commission approved Hayden Homes’ Master Plan Development for McKenzie Meadows Village, the Comprehensive Plan Map and Zoning Map Amendment, a Tentative Subdivision, and Development Agreement, accepting all of the City staff recommendations, with one small change of wording.

The commission’s recommendation for approval has been sent to the City Council. At their March 27 meeting at 6:30 p.m., the Council can review the decision or let it stand. Two of the five councilors, Nancy Connolly and Michael Preedin, will be out of town and unable to weigh in. The decision will rest with Mayor Chuck Ryan and councilors Andrea Blum and Richard Esterman.

At the Planning Commission meeting on March 21, the City Hall chambers were full of mostly residents of Village at Cold Springs who had a strong interest in the outcome of the commission’s deliberations. They have fought to stop the connection of Hill Street and Williamson Avenue between the Village at Cold Springs and the proposed neighboring McKenzie Meadows Village.

At the earlier March 7 Planning Commission public hearing, there was a great deal of testimony from Village at Cold Springs residents citing safety and livability concerns if the streets are connected between the two Hayden developments. The Homeowners Association (HOA) favored the installation of emergency gates accessible to fire, police, and medical personnel in the event of an emergency. Otherwise, the gates would remain closed to limit the flow of traffic cutting through Village at Cold Springs, which has narrow, privately maintained streets.

The City granted Hayden the variance on the streets in 2005 in exchange for greater density of housing. Because the narrow streets didn’t meet City code standards, they became the responsibility of the HOA for any and all maintenance and repairs. For this reason, the HOA considers them private streets.

City staff contends they are public streets with private maintenance. According to current City code and the Transportation Safety Plan (TSP), city streets should be designed to ensure a grid pattern for increased connectivity throughout the City.

Cul de sacs and dead-end streets are discouraged.

The HOA’s attorney, Ed Fitch, stated in his letter to the Planning Commission, “The Village at Cold Springs was approved back in 2005. In its approval decision, the City of Sisters approved substandard streets in the Village at Cold Springs…These streets were not designed to have through traffic. The City also authorized these streets to be privately owned by the HOA and privately maintained.”

Commissioners received additional written comments after the March 7 hearing from citizens as well as agency submittals from the traffic engineer, the City engineer, the Sisters School District, and Hayden Homes. Two of the Commissioners who participated in the deliberations and voting on March 21, Bob Wright and David Gentry, were not present at the March 7 public hearing but stated they believed they were prepared to consider and vote on the issues.

The issue of the gate and the timing of the multi-family residential (MFR) development took up the most time over the two-and-a-half hour meeting. Staff had prepared a detailed decision matrix of all the issues that needed to be addressed in order to reach decisions about approval of the documents before the commission.

In the end, the commissioners followed staff recommendations on all 16 issues, with the removal of one phrase.

The question of delivery of affordable housing was brought into the discussion.

Sharlene Weed, former City councilor, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, and chairman of the Housing Policy Advisory Board, said in written testimony to the Planning Commission and City Council:

“The draft Development Agreement exempts Hayden Homes from paying a future fee (Construction Excise Tax – CET) that would create a fund to help build much-needed affordable housing. This agreement is a bad deal for our town and is unfair to other developers.

“In exchange for paying $50,000 into a fund for affordable housing, Hayden will be exempted from paying a future CET. The fee can be up to one percent of the permit value of the home. So for a home that costs $250,000, a payment of $2,500 would be paid into the CET. Hayden plans to build around 200 homes in McKenzie Meadows. If Hayden were to pay $2,500 per home, that would amount to $500,000. Paying just $50,000 is a great deal for Hayden and a rotten deal for our town.”

George Slape of Bend, who is a director on the First Story (Hayden’s charitable arm) board and a member of the Housing Policy Advisory Board, submitted his thoughts on the subject:

“I encourage you to probe further before accepting the claim that the City is getting short shrift on affordable housing with this agreement. The cost of land and construction to build 20 affordable homes in McKenzie Meadows is roughly $4 million. $100,000 per lot in land acquisition and development cost and $100,000 on average in construction per home. This financial contribution being made to the housing needs in Sisters is a much greater value than that potential total revenue from a yet-to-be determined construction excise tax.”

The last two issues before the Planning Commission dealt with the Hill Street offset intersection and the location of McKinney Ranch Road.

During the course of deliberations, a consensus check was done regarding the gate/no gate issue. Four commissioners indicated they favored fully developed rights-of-way (ROW) and no gates. Three indicated a preference for an alternative proposal that would require fully improved ROW connections, with gates at Hill and Williamson, and a mid-block pedestrian connection.

There was discussion that providing the gates allowed flexibility to have them open or closed depending on what the actual traffic situation turns out to be. Following the 4-3 consensus sampling, many of the people in the chamber walked out.

President of the Village at Cold Springs HOA, Doug Wills, told The Nugget, “The Planning Commission seems more worried about codes that are obsolete than they are about the citizens of Sisters who live in Village at Cold Springs. We are citizens of Sisters and they’re voting against us. They just rolled over.”

The final vote of six commissioners recommending approval to the City Council includes fully connecting Hill and Williamson with no emergency gates. Nagel voted against approval because of the gate issue.