SISTERS, Ore. - (Update: Planning commission recommends denial of code amendment)
Shepherdsfield Church in Sisters hosts weddings during the warmer months of the year. It also hosts Bible studies year-round. But those events could be in jeopardy.
The church sits on the range of the Metolius Mule Deer. Churches are one of the institutions specifically not allowed on the deer's winter range, and the church owner sees inconsistency in the Deschutes County code.
"A hunting lodge has been permitted, a business office has been permitted, business storage has been permitted, plus all kinds of other things," John Shepherd said Wednesday. "Since those things are allowed, churches have to be allowed, too."
Federal law would exempt churches from that Deschutes County statute, he argues.
But the Deschutes County Planning Commission, which discussed its recent hearing Thursday night, recommended that county commissioners reject the request. It had received over 30 letters from people asking the county to deny the church a permit.
One person said, "It's especially important to balance the pressures of developments of all sorts with the needs of our native wildlife."
Another said, "Allowing churches in the winter range sets a dangerous precedent for our wildlife."
When told he has to make accommodations for the deer, Shepeherd said he already does.
"We have a large 1 1/2-acre lawn that we leave long," he said. "They love to graze on this all winter and fall. We have a five-acre pasture that we put in that they love to graze on. In fact, we even put in 25 acres of rehabilitated forest."
County commissioners also will hold a public hearing before reaching a decision.