The first step in the long process of developing the middle section of the Forest Service property has been taken. On Thursday, the Sisters Planning Commission approved — with conditions — a request by developers for a rezone from Public Facilities to Multi-Family Residential. Five commissioners voted in favor and one abstained. The area is now called Sisters Woodlands.

There are no development plans yet, although the applicants and their representatives offered some possible scenarios they are considering.

The applicant’s land use planner, Tammy Wisco, painted a picture for the commissioners of the possible development, with 25 acres of workforce housing made up of cottages, town homes, and multi-family units in the interior of the property. She called it a true community that will be walkable and bikeable.

The staff report presented by Senior Planner Nicole Mardell recommended approval with conditions to the City Council for amendments to the Comprehensive Plan Map and Zoning Map to redesignate and rezone the property from its current Public Facilities, Urban Area Reserve, and Landscape Management/Open Space to Downtown Commercial, Multi-Family Residential, North Sisters Business Park, and Open Space.

Mardell outlined for the commissioners what some of the changes would look like for the 35.89-acre parcel. The Comprehensive Map would include 25.06 acres of residential multi-family, 4.96 acres North Sisters Business Park, 3.85 acres open space, and 1.97 acres downtown commercial.

The two acres of Downtown Commercial along Highway 20 would allow for businesses as well as apartments and condos to act as buffers from the highway. The northern five acres would provide a buffer zone of Light Industrial and live/work housing across Barclay from the other Light Industrial development currently under review. The west corner by the Highway 20/Barclay roundabout, designated Open Space, could be used for park amenities.

Paul Hodge, of Laird SuperFood, and one of the partners in PX2, the applicants, talked about the need to diversify the Sisters economy and the need to provide housing for workers and their families. Hodge pointed out the statistic that only 14 percent of people who work in Sisters live here.

“We don’t want to change the community,” said Hodge’s partner Paul Schneider, a 20-year resident of Sisters. “We want to expand on it, providing workforce housing.”

Kevin Eckert, the architect for the Sisters Woodlands, believes they will be providing responsible growth with no change to the city limits. He said they are committed to careful integration into the community.

Commissioners had a range of questions and concerns for both staff and the applicants. They ranged from concern over impacts to livability, to how can they be sure that houses go to intended workers and not investors. Hodge answered, saying that Laird is looking at a housing assistance program within his company.

Commissioner Scott Davidson questioned if the city can absorb more traffic generated by Sisters Woodlands and maintain the quality of life, a concern shared by Commissioner Bob Wright, the commissioner who abstained. Davidson also pointed to the latest housing needs analysis which suggests there is more than enough land available zoned for MFR and not enough for single-family residential.

Planning Commission chairman Jeff Seymour thinks the zoning changes will be positive for the city but encouraged the applicants to be mindful of the issues raised during the hearing.

Wright explained his concerns to The Nugget, summarizing the points contributing to his vote to abstain rather than deny or approve the application:

“The application I feel met the Statewide planning goals as they pertain to strictly meeting zoning requirements. I feel that it did not meet the Livability and Safety that are so critical in meeting the goals of the Sisters Vision Plan and TSP for Sisters. I feel that members of the Planning Commission have an obligation and responsibility to further the goal of providing a ‘quality of life’ both economically and in housing for all residents of Sisters. At least that has been my goal for the past eight years and is my goal for the future in the decisions that I make as a planning commissioner.”

All materials for the project can be found on the project website, www.ci.sisters.or.us/community-development/page/sisters-woodlands-rezone-cp-20-03-zm-20-02.