The recent news that the City of Sisters is conducting a site-plan review on a potential Dollar General Store near Bi-Mart has led some in the community who dislike the idea to call upon the planning commission to determine what kind of business is best for Sisters.

Planning Commission Chair Jeff Seymour said, “Certainly, the commission is sensitive to what the public is saying. We live here, too, and we see it.”

However, he and Planning Commission Vice Chair Cris Converse noted that the commission works within strict legal parameters.

Seymour said that the planning commission acts as “a quasi-judicial commission that reviews land-use applications and applies the existing Development Code to those applications to determine if those projects are viable based on that code.”

The commission — by law — cannot discriminate and say that a certain business that meets code requirements can’t come to Sisters.

“Law does not allow us to discriminate against a particular business,” Converse said.

“We can only look at and really discuss the existing application that is in front of us,” he said. “We can’t change the code (on the fly) and we can’t change the application.”

The matter at hand is a site-plan review on a 9,100-square-foot retail sales establishment to be located on the south side of McKinney Butte Road directly adjacent to Bi-Mart and The Pines residential community.

The store to be built has been identified as Dollar General, a national corporation that has over 15,000 stores in small- to mid-size communities in 44 states. In Central Oregon they have stores in La Pine and Culver, with a number on the west side of the Cascades in towns like Cave Junction, Winston, and Roseburg. Dollar General is a discount retailer, but not a “dollar store,” per se.

The subject property is located in the Highway Commercial zone, which allows for retail establishments, restaurants, some franchises like McDonald’s and Dairy Queen (which are not allowed in the Downtown Commercial zone), motels, and a host of other allowed uses. Dollar General qualifies as an allowed use.

Given the scope of the project and the level of community interest, it is likely that the application will eventually come before the Planning Commission.

If it does, the commission will judge the plan on whether it meets code. They can approve an application outright, reject it, or approve it with conditions.

Converse noted that the Planning Commission doesn’t actually make final decisions. They make a recommendation to the Sisters City Council, which has the final say.

Seymour noted that the vast majority of the Planning Commission’s time is spent in updating the Development Code in an effort to keep abreast of changes in business and growth across the region. Code work is where the future of the community is shaped.

“That’s a really good place for people to give input, actually,” Converse said.

Code amendments are where such contentious issues as food carts, transient merchant activity, and vacation rentals have been thrashed out.

Seymour said that the commission is always trying to balance economic development with quality of life, and he says that significant improvements have been made.

“The code is 20 times better than it was 10 years ago,” he said.

He credits the planning staff for their work in trying to keep Sisters abreast of rapid change.

“For the size of the town that we have, the staff we have in that office is great,” he said.

Seymour and Converse recognize that there are strong feelings about the impact development may have on the character of Sisters and they want the public to understand the nature of their job in what can be a real hot seat.

“Land use is always a contentious issue,” Seymour said.How the planning commission works