A public hearing about changes to Deschutes County’s destination resort rules evoked some controversy, partially to do with the proposed rule changes, and partially due to one commissioner’s potential conflicts of interest.
The county’s planning commission, a citizen advisory committee that makes recommendations to the Deschutes County Commission, is in the process of weighing whether to change rules in the county code that would limit new destination resorts within 24 air miles of Bend.
One commissioner, Matt Cyrus, could potentially be impacted by the change, which he made sure to disclose during the public hearing proceedings.
“I have a potential conflict of interest because our family owns some of the property that would be affected by this, but I feel I can move forward with hearing this as a part of, I think, nearly 5,000 affected properties,” Cyrus said at the Feb. 23 public hearing. However, that didn’t stop some members of the public from calling for Cyrus’ recusal.
Destination resort code changes
According to state law, destination resorts cannot be built within 24 air miles of an urban growth boundary containing a population of 100,000 or more unless residential uses are restricted to resort staff and management.
(An air mile is the same as a nautical mile and is slightly longer than a land mile.)
Central Oregon LandWatch proposed changes to Deschutes County code that would bring the county rules in alignment with the state law. This was done as a proactive and precautionary measure, LandWatch attorney Rory Isbell said in an email. LandWatch has significant concerns about the impacts “new, large-scale destination resorts would have on wildlife, water, open space, rural infrastructure and more, he wrote.
“The existing state law may indeed be enough to prevent certain new destination resorts within 24 miles of the Bend (urban growth boundary). However, because of some potential interpretations of certain language in the law, this application would ensure that the longstanding state law is effective here in Deschutes County,” Isbell wrote.
The planning commissioners’ task is to decide whether or not they agree that the language belongs in the county code, said Tarik Rawlings, an associate planner with the county.
Then, the commissioners make a recommendation to the County Commission, which ultimately has the final say.
Regardless of what the planning commissioners decide, the state statute still applies to newly-built resorts within Deschutes County. It’s similar to requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rawlings said. Even though the rule doesn’t exist within county code, land use applications still must comply.
The proposed code changes would not apply to Deschutes County’s existing destination resorts, including Thornburgh, which is still entangled in multiple appeals at varying levels in courts across the state.
“This region is pretty exceptional in the state for how many destination resorts have been established,” said Rawlings.
Once Bend surpassed 100,000 people, based on Portland State University’s 2021 population estimates, LandWatch, a local land use conservation group, wasted very little time in submitting a land use application to change county code. The population estimate report was released in April 2022, and LandWatch applied to the county roughly six months later.
More than 300 public comments have been submitted to the public record since then with opinion split fairly evenly. The written public record closes at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
At the initial planning commission public hearing on Feb. 23, one public commenter was Cyrus’ father, Keith Cyrus.
“Think carefully about how you treat this, because, from my experience, this is a personal attack on people that are trying to develop something that has quality and is beneficial to the community,” said Keith Cyrus, who was previously a planning commissioner himself for eight years.
Cyrus family ties
The Cyrus family has long been a fixture in Central Oregon. They’ve grown potatoes, alfalfa and now hemp in the Sisters area for generations.
Keith Cyrus’ testimony at the February hearing rubbed some members of the public the wrong way. For one, Keith Cyrus is the owner of Aspen Lakes, a golf course and subdivision near Sisters, which could qualify as a destination resort. Second, Matt Cyrus also owns land that is listed as potentially viable to be a destination resort.
These things prompted one person, Therese Kollerer, to publicly request that Matt Cyrus recuse himself from the issue at hand. Another public commenter also requested Cyrus step down from the dais at a continuation of the public hearing on Thursday.
Matt Cyrus had no public response to requests for his recusal until he told The Bulletin on Monday that he doesn’t believe either of these things could affect his decision-making.
“The reality is that the whole point of a planning commission is to have people who represent the community and the properties affected by the decisions being made,” he said.
“Quite frankly, we’re still trying to determine what the impacts are. There was testimony to the effect that it wouldn’t affect existing mapped properties. In which case, there wouldn’t be any conflict by anybody who has a property that’s currently mapped,” Cyrus said.
This is not the first time the Cyrus family’s interests have been questioned.
Keith Cyrus was determined to transform Aspen Lakes into a destination resort, according to Bulletin archives. He was on the same commission his son sits on more than a decade ago. Former planning commissioners told The Bulletin in 2010 that Keith Cyrus used his position to bring up Aspen Lakes in situations inaccessible to the general public, such as during commission retreats and in conversations with other commissioners. Keith Cyrus recused himself from decisions on a destination resort zone at the time, but he raised the issue more than once at planning commission and Deschutes County Commission meetings, according to meeting minutes.
The planning commissioners complied with disclosing potential conflicts of interests during the hearing proceedings, said Stephanie Marshall, the assistant legal counsel for Deschutes County, during the hearing Thursday.
“The appearance of a conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest may vary from person to person,” Marshall said.
Recusal is only required when there is an actual conflict of interest, and commissioners can recuse themselves at any time, Marshall said.
“It is up to the individual commissioner to make that decision for him or herself,” Marshall said.
The planning commission is scheduled to deliberate on the destination resort code changes before making a decision at a meeting on March 23.
Cyrus is biased. Without. A. Doubt. Ingrained good old boys backslapping other good old boys. It will only change when voters (and ethics committees) make the change. There is no trust that people will do the right thing anymore. It's all about profit.
The Cyruses have been putting themselves on boards and committees for two decades to ensure they get preferential treatment and can steer decisions to their benefit. The County Commissioners know this and continue to give them positions. Matt Cyrus should not be on the water committee when his family pulls 18,000 gallons a minute out of the aquifer. This article shows exactly how honest this family is. First he admits to the conflict of interest, then denies it. In the same paragraph. It's time for Deschutes County to get over its preferential treatment of this family.
'said Stephanie Marshall, the assistant legal counsel for Deschutes County'
Hope they city is paying attention. We need an opinion from our GC on this, and if it would cause any problems for the county at all, submit an ethics complaint to ORDOJ. Sending out an assistant counsel on this is like chumming the water. No one at county wants to deal with problems created by Cyrus land deals. Sharp elbows folks.
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