Sisters will not restrict formula food businesses — at least not for now.

After lengthy public testimony on the contentious issue of limiting formula food to the four existing operations (McDonald’s, Subway, Figaro’s Pizza, and Bad Ass Coffee Company) the council voted 3-2 against the ordinance on Thursday, June 9.

In February of 2005, the Sisters Urban Area Planning Commission began drafting Ordinance 355 in an effort to curb the presence of fast food restaurants in Sisters. After three drafts, two public hearings, and one public workshop, the planning commission voted unanimously to send the ordinance on to the city council.

About 50 people attended Thursday night’s hearing; 29 people testified. Some participants — predominantly property owners, business owners and attorneys — spoke against the ordinance, while a general range of citizens spoke in favor of the restrictions.

Attorney Bruce White, of Bend, representing Richard Carpenter (owner of the property that currently houses the Subway sandwich shop) said, “This is a discriminatory ordinance that in fact institutionalizes discrimination within the zoning code and the Comprehensive Plan for the City of Sisters.”

White charged that “there has been a singling out of a particular segment of the business community because they’re being viewed as generic type businesses. This ordinance is not simplistic. It goes a lot deeper than outlawing certain kinds of restaurants.”

Linda Davis of Sisters — a retired land-use planner — said, “It doesn’t take a wizard to see what is going to happen if this ordinance is not approved. You can go virtually anywhere in the country and see how small- to medium-sized towns are being consumed by formula restaurants: boring, monotonous, homogenous, lacking creativity and excitement.

“This is not our preferred vision and not the reason we have chosen to live here. I can assure you that Sisters is the envy (of) many communities in the state that I have worked with over the years.”

Proponents of the formula food ordinance submitted a petition with numerous signatures into the record in order to demonstrate a majority of support by the community.

Councilor Sharlene Weed moved to adopt the ordinance. Council member Brad Boyd seconded Weed’s motion, then Mayor David Elliott, council member Judy Trego, and council member Lon Kellstrom voted against the ordinance.

The majority sided with the business community, predominantly out of an expressed fear of litigation or the filing of a Measure 37 claim due to the loss of property value through the ordinance restrictions.

There were also concerns held by some members of the council that the business community had not been properly involved in the ordinance-making process.

Senior Planning Director Bill Adams maintains that the business community was properly notified of the commission’s work.

The commission received special legal counsel from Pamela Beery of Portland. Beery acknowledged the legal risks entailed and noted that if the city is completely risk adverse, it would not want to adopt this ordinance. Beery also felt the risk of litigation was “manageable.”

City Attorney Steve Bryant expressed concerns about Measure 37 claims if the ordinance was adopted. City Manager Eileen Stein said after the meeting that the city’s job is to protect the taxpayers and to be a prudent investor of the city’s resources.

Under these circumstances, “a majority of the council felt that this might not be the right solution,” said Stein.

Mayor Elliott left open the possibility of revisiting the ordinance in a different form that addressed the legal concerns.