When the U.S. Forest Service put nearly 67 acres of undeveloped land near downtown Sisters up for sale, it seemed like a potential win for all parties involved.
The sale would give the Forest Service enough money to build a new district office while providing developable land within Sisters’ urban growth boundary.
“We would really like to get this into private ownership and essentially build the rest of our downtown,” said Patrick Davenport, community development director for the city of Sisters.
However, a year and a half after the Forest Service began seeking a broker for the project, the property remains on the market. While John Allen, the Deschutes National Forest supervisor, said four or five parties are interested, he would not provide a timeline for a deal being completed.
“Obviously, we would liked to have sold it by now, but we’re willing to be patient,” Allen said.
The Forest Service for some time has been looking to sell part of its 80 acres that bridge downtown Sisters and the commercial district to the west. Prior to the Great Recession, the Forest Service placed the parcel on the market, but the collapse of the local and national real estate industry in 2008 forced the agency to withdraw it.
Allen said the Deschutes National Forest has received permission from the federal government to retain the money from a potential sale to develop a new office for the Sisters Ranger District, which would replace the district’s existing 19-building compound.
Ian Reid, the Sisters district ranger, said the existing office, which was built in 1957, is showing its age. The main building has issues with its heating and cooling systems, he said, and the phone lines in the building tend to go out in inclement weather.
“It’s a safety issue, and it’s also just a efficiency and reliability issue,” Reid said.
Additionally, multiple buildings in the district have been condemned in the last seven years, and a 2011 design plan referred to the existing buildings as having reached the end of their design lives.
“We’ve been putting a lot of Band-Aids on the buildings for years, Reid said.
Allen said selling the parcel, currently listed on Compass Commercial Real Estate Service’s website for $8 million, should more than cover designs for a new station. The new station would use designs from a recently constructed 11,000-square-foot facility in the Crescent Ranger District, which Allen said cost about $5 million. He said the cost for a new facility in Sisters should be similar, even after accounting for inflation.
In July 2016, the Forest Service once again solicited brokers to help sell a portion of the parcel, listed at 66.57 acres on Compass Commercial’s website. Allen said the parcel could be a fit for a variety of development types, from light industrial to a full-fledged resort.
“It’s a very visible property,” Allen said.
Davenport said the parcel is broken into three different zoning designations by the city. Six acres on the eastern edge of the parcel are zoned as open space, and could be retained as a park or other public space, according to Davenport. He said a section of the property north of West Barclay Drive, currently zoned urban area reserve, could be a fit for commercial development near U.S. Highway 20 in the future. The largest portion of the parcel, spanning about 47 acres, is currently zoned to house public facilities.
While Davenport said the parcel could house a university or other public use, the most likely outcome is for it to be re-zoned and accommodate a larger mixed-use development that could extend downtown Sisters past its current boundaries.
“A mixed-use, town center approach would be desirable for most people,” Davenport said.
Currently, Sisters has about 1,300 residential units, ranging from single-family homes to apartments, within its city limits. While Davenport did not provide an occupancy rate, he said anecdotally that it’s virtually impossible to find a room in the city unless you know someone when you move there.
“We’re keenly aware of the need for market-rate housing,” Davenport said.
So far, the complexity of the project has worked against a potential sale. Davenport said a more straightforward development, like a subdivision of single-family homes, would be easier to construct, but less desirable for the community.
“I think most people would like to see an extension of downtown, and that takes patience,” he said.
Additionally, Robert Raimondi, a broker with Compass Commercial, said most developers in Central Oregon with the capacity to take on a project of this magnitude are busy with other projects, and lack the time in their schedule for a large, new endeavor.
“It’s a long-term commitment to the community, to the area,” Raimondi said.
Because the parcel is federally owned, it must be surveyed by the Bureau of Land Management before changing hands. Michael Campbell, a Portland-based spokesman for the bureau, said surveyors were assigned to the parcel in November, and will provide the survey to the Forest Service for review by early summer. Campbell described the timeline as being fairly normal for a parcel of this size near private property, but he nor Allen would comment on why surveyors weren’t assigned until November.
After the property is sold, Davenport said the developers will likely need to get it re-zoned and will need to meet standards in the city’s comprehensive plan.
“We’re looking at a two-to-five year process just to get the initial work done,” Davenport said.
The project will also play a large role in a visioning project for the city and the surrounding area, known collectively as Sisters Country. The city identified a consultant for the project, and will be seeking input from residents over the next couple of months.
“This Forest Service site is one where we’d really like to hear from people,” Davenport said.
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