- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

SISTERS, Ore. (AP) - A few food carts could become a permanent fixture in downtown Sisters after a recent decision by the city approved them for a corner lot next to a bike and ski shop owned by Mayor Brad Boyd, whose term ends in January.

Food carts within the city have been approved as temporary vendors in the past, but the application submitted by Boyd for the quarter-acre lot is the first time anyone has undergone a site plan review for a piece of property where the carts could be kept year-round.

The approval, made in late November, has generated interest in how the decision was reached and whether a precedent has been set that blurs the distinction between temporary vendors and licensed businesses.

Officials involved in the process said nothing was done differently on behalf of Boyd because he is the mayor and that nothing changed in the city code that would require a more scrutinized review process.

“All of the processes and procedures were followed,” said Alan Holzman, chairman of the Sisters Planning Commission.

The approved food cart lot is at the corner of Hood Avenue and Fir Street. Boyd purchased the property and building for his business this year and moved out of a space he had rented for years. He said he envisions a spot outside the shop similar to the The Lot in Bend on NW Columbia Street, which has food carts, tables and beer taps. No food carts have come forward to use the spot yet, but Boyd said he expects three or four to be located there depending on their size.

“My customers are excited,” Boyd said. “It’s nothing new, and people are excited about it. People want one more option.”

Boyd said the outdoor, low-cost option of food carts is something his customers want after biking or other outdoor sports, instead of going to a sit-down restaurant. The food carts would provide an alternative and bring people to the location.

“I want to make my property as vibrant and attractive as I can for both residents and tourists alike,” Boyd said.

Eric Porter, the city’s senior planner, approved the site plan review for the project and categorized the carts as eating and drinking establishments, which are an “outright permitted use,” in the downtown commercial district of the city.

The decision did not require approval by the planning commission because the food carts were considered a permitted use, according to Pauline Hardie, director of the city’s community development department.

“If it’s a permitted use, it is an administrative decision,” Hardie said. “(Boyd) submitted all the required information, and it’s a pretty standard use.”

The planning commission could have called up the decision for a review. No appeals were filed within the 14-day period after the decision, the time period when it could have been challenged.

In some cases, a site plan review and decision is forwarded to the planning commission, but other times it is not, according to Holzman.

“We did not see a copy of the site plan review, but that is not unusual because there were no extenuating circumstances,” Holzman said, referencing the fact that the project was considered a permitted use.

Ed Protas, a former Sisters planning commissioner and local activist, said the decision was controversial and should have been forwarded to the planning commission.

“It’s totally out of nowhere, and given the controversy that we have had to make that determination is pretty astounding,” said Protas.

Melissa Ward, owner of the Sisters Bakery, wrote the city after receiving a notice about the proposed project. She said that to equate the carts to restaurants could establish an unwanted precedent.

“It makes it just look like it was too easy because it didn’t go through a lot of process,” Ward said, adding that she doesn’t think there was any wrongdoing but feels it was an “unconventional move.”

Ward was the only nearby business owner to send public comments to the city about the project. Many notices were sent to addresses belonging to companies that own the nearby buildings, but not to the actual business owner and operator, according to Ward.

“I think that for one person to make this decision that food carts are the same as a restaurant is an error,” Ward said.

Any food carts on the lot would have to adhere to city development codes like storefront businesses, including compliance with the 1880s western frontier architectural theme in the downtown district. Some of the recommendations for complying with the theme include horizontal wood siding with a flat or low gloss finish and roofing materials that are nonreflective.

The food cart owners must pay an annual business license fee of $105 to operate on the lot.

Meanwhile, the city is working to refine its code pertaining to transient merchant licensing for vendors. The issue has been contentious at times as storefront businesses compete with the temporary vendors for tourist and local dollars.

The city is looking at a temporary business license for transient vendors who wish to stay in one location between four and 45 days. That choice would require a $100 application fee and $10 per day. Afterward, those vendors would have to apply for a permanent business license.

The city is also considering a $100-per-day fee for vendors seeking a transient license that would allow them to stay for three days in one location six different times throughout the year.

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Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com

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