Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wrangling over the McKenzie Meadows annexation

The proposed annexation of the 30-acre McKenzie Meadows property for the site of a senior living community has become a hot issue in Sisters.

The public rhetoric has, so far, been pretty civil (though I’ve heard some complain otherwise). The private comments I’ve heard are another story. People are fired up about this.

That’s a little weird to me. Seems like an issue that could be addressed pretty dispassionately. I can easily lawyer both sides.

Pro: Sisters needs to accommodate an aging population. This is the piece of land that had the right price to make a project pencil. It was already approved for annexation by voters. It’s not sprawl; it’s bordered by schools and a shopping center.

If the project doesn’t fly, it’s just a bare piece of ground paying taxes into the city.

It’ll provide vital construction jobs and ongoing service jobs.


The jobs are speculative; we don’t know if this project is viable.

Sisters needs to focus on keeping a vital downtown core. We’ve already pushed development and economic activity out on the margins (Outlaw Station at one end, Five Pine at the other).

We already have too much inactive developable space and too much inventory; we shouldn’t add too it now.

Neither side is all right or all wrong here. There are competing visions, sure, and differing views on viability, but I don’t think any honest assessment couldn’t concede points to the other side.
But that’s not how we do things anymore. And that’s what interests me.

Sisters, like the rest of the nation, has fallen into a very divisive, hardball kind of politics. In the city council election last November PACs contributed significant amounts of money to campaigns, for the first time in Sisters’ history.

The school local option campaign drew in a lot of cultural baggage from well outside the school district — attitudes toward public education in general and toward taxes and government in general — that shaped peoples’ attitude toward a strictly local measure.

This annexation issue has brought out some pretty strong language regarding various peoples’ integrity, character and motives. Again, that’s all been private and/or anonymous so far, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it go public during and after the city council’s decision on Thursday night.

What it shows me is that Sisters is not much different than anywhere else in the USA right now. People are quick to take sides, quick to think the worst of each other and feel increasingly threatened by people who think differently than they do.

I guess this is nothing new. Certainly the fight over the sewer system got pretty nasty.

But there seems to be something meaner in the air these days, an ill wind that pushes into the cracks between people and drives them farther and farther apart until disagreements are irreconcilable differences.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Jim, we moved over here 25 years ago from Portland to get away from what you are talking about. Times change everywhere and we are no different. Its sad but what once was in Sisters is now gone never to be revisited. Our response: Our children are grown now and we spend most of our time elsewhere leaving the petty chatter behind.

  2. I think that part of the underlying issue is basic trust of the developers. While they have done a lot for Sisters they have also increased their wealth over and over again.
    On another note, the fact that Mr. Bogart said in the Bulletin today that he's going to find out who tipped off the media about his delinquent taxes makes me wonder what other sorts of revenge he is looking for. He says that the tax problems came before his election and should have no bearing. Let's see: He's part of a group in charge of keeping the city running fiscally and he can't even manage his own finances. (He says that he got all the taxes because he got all the earnings when his partnership split. Maybe he should have used some of those earnings to pay his tax bill!)
    "Bogart Logic" doesn't give me confidence at all that his vote will be well thought out.

  3. Unpaid taxes dating back almost 12 years might have been a relevant fact in Mr. Bogarts election quest. Honesty, integrity and full disclosure, doubtful with that guy !!

  4. I'm all for strengthening the existing UGB and downtown core. The answer is pretty simple - encourage existing UGB landowners to negotiate an acceptable land price with the retirement community developer. To date they've shown no willingness to lower their land prices. The Kallbergs/Willitts/Reeds understand the need for a retirement community and, as they have so many times in the past, are willing to lower their price so that the needs of our community can be met. -Bill Mintiens

  5. The annexation was approved by a vote of 4 to 1. The only opposition was Sharlene Weed.

    Bill Merrill changed his vote in last minute negotiations to get a better deal for the city. He was successful in getting a clause allowing commercial use (convenience store, fast food joint) removed, the age restriction on the residential lots was removed, and he got the word “assisted” into the agreement. The language is now very close to what the voters approved in 2006.

    I was shocked Bill had to do this. All of the public rhetoric has been about this wonderful assisted living facility yet the word “assisted” was not in the Final Draft Agreement presented to the council Thursday night.

    Sharlene tried to get the term “Assisted Living Facility” defined but was not successful, hence her no vote. In other words, the word assisted got into the agreement but the size and scope of that part of the proposed project remains undefined.

    One of the councilors said there are now approximately 200 residential building lots within the city limits that are bank owned or otherwise unable to be further improved. They are the lots we see in the developments around town where construction has stopped. There are streets, utilities, weeds and no more.

    The council chamber was packed with real estate professionals that support the annexation, which includes more than 80 new residential building lots. These folks should be thinking about how to explain this support to people, including current customers, harmed by the economic reality of actions that further devalue the existing inventory of building lots and to all of us who will be forced to look at the blight of stalled construction projects for years to come.

    In the current economy, it’s going to take a very long time to build out an inventory of more than 280 residential building lots. In a Nugget article dated October 28, 2008, Mr. Bill Willitts said: “In our current economy no one is suggesting that we add more residential or industrial land (to our city).” I believe time will confirm the wisdom of Mr. Willitts’ statement of just over a year ago.

  6. The McKenzie Meadows Village owners (Willitts, Kallberg and Reed families) should be commended for their vision of a full and complete Master Planned development for seniors. As well as, they should be commended for discounting land for a Senior Housing Community for Independent and Assisted Living of 80% of high market at peak and 75% in today’s market. I am very grateful as it makes the project feasible. MMV is worthy of commendable recognition.

    I feel that effort should be to do what is good and right for our seniors, the citizens, City of Sisters and Sisters Country.

    It is wise to put emphasis on doing good. Caring for our seniors and providing options for our seniors to have choices is good.

  7. Anonymous:

    How can you in good faith represent that MMV is a master planned senior development when there is no senior requirement on the more than 80 residential lots, there is no definition of independent and/or assisted living facility, and last minute negotiations were required to remove commercial uses (think convenience store or fast food joint) from the legal agreement binding on the city and MMV property owners?

    If the MMV owners have discounted the price of the 6 acres designated for senior independent and assisted living by 75% of today’s market value then you are admitting they are essentially giving this part of the 30 acres away to make the other 24 acres marketable at a much higher price than would be possible without annexation.

    I’ve long thought that the rhetoric about the seniors and this wonderful facility could be a political smokescreen to get public support for the annexation when the real financial motive was the more than 80 residential lots that go with it. You have confirmed my suspicion.

    What is the next developer going to do? Give away 5 acres for a dog park and facility to feed and care for starving puppies? Or a public swimming pool that gives out free hot dogs and ice cream on hot summer days?

    The refusal to include in the annexation agreement language that guarantees a master planned community consistent with your public rhetoric is problematic for some of us. It’s nice to talk about stuff but unless it's in the enforceable agreement its only talk.

  8. Can someone explain why 30 acres needed to be annexed when only 6 was needed for assisted living?
    It looks as though the developers could've given the 6 away for the windfall of millions that they will gain.