Monthly Archives: November 2010

New Development Proposals Would Mean Loss of More Historic Urban Fabric

Two new development proposals will likely spell the demise of a few more vintage Portland apartment buildings.

The first proposal is for a 5-story 66,000 square foot  mixed-use building
at 537 NE Couch. This building would extend the full block from NE Couch to NE Davis – on a lot that includes two early 20th century apartment buildings. The Davis half of the lot has been empty for some time, which begs the question, why not figure out a way to integrate the older structures into the new development? Such a design would preserve some of what remains of the historic character in this much modified part of town. It could also conserve the energy embodied in those structures and prevent construction/demolition waste from further entering our landfills. Who knows, it might even render the apartments more affordable than new construction would allow. If you are interested in this project, you can attend a public “design advice” meeting with the Portland Design Commission on December 16th – 1900 SW 4th Avenue – Room 2500A – 1:30 pm.

The second proposal is for a 4 story, 28 unit apartment building in the Alphabet Historic District. Located at 2124 NW Flanders, the old c. 1900 residence currently on the site will be demolished. The apartment buildings that stand on either side of this property (the Marlborough and Flandora Apts.) are both listed as contributing structures in the historic district, while the building to be demolished is (sadly) listed as non-contributing. This proposal will be discussed at the Portland Landmarks Commission meeting on December 13th – 1900 SW 4th Ave – Room 2500A – 1:30 pm.

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LUBA Ruling Re-Affirms Historic Design Review Process

Thanks to Fred Leeson for sharing this fantastic news.

Preservationists are heartened by a recent Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals ruling that said owners of a building in the Alphabet Historic District of Northwest Portland could not replace wood windows with new vinyl substitutes without going through historic design review.

The Oct. 22 ruling affirmed a Portland city hearings officer who had ruled that owners of the Carlton Court building, a four-story apartment being converted to condominiums, should not have started installing vinyl windows without a historic review permit in 2007.

The owners contended on appeal that the wood sash windows were not listed in the National Register nomination’s statement of “significance” as “an attribute that contributes to the resource’s historic value” as defined by the Portland City Code.

However, both the hearings officer and LUBA said the National Register building “description” that listed the “primary window type is one-over-one, double hung wood sash” met the standards of the city code requiring historic design review.

“It has broader application than just the Portland City Code,” said Carrie Richter, a Portland lawyer and vice chair of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission.  She said other local governments could rely on it as a precedent that a building’s “description” is a key ingredient in evaluating the historic “significance” of a building.

Tim Heron, a senior manager in the city’s Bureau of Development Services said other owners “have been waiting for the final answer out there” on the window issue.

In the Alphabet Historic District’s National Register listing, the Carlton Court is listed as a “secondary contributing” resource with “minor” alterations.  The listing’s description described the structure’s exterior, including walls, cornice, base, recessed entry and windows.  It also included alterations including a fire escape and exhaust vents added to some windows.

Under “significance,” the Register listing said, “This building is considered to be contributing within the district as a good example of a Classical style multi-family residence and is therefore significant as a part of the larger grouping of residential development that occurred in the Northwest neighborhood.”

Note that the City indicates there are other historic building owners wanting to swap out their windows too. We hope they’ll look at other options first.

 

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Current Thinking on Historic Preservation – Insights from the 2010 National Preservation Conference

By Val Ballestrem

Last week I had the privilege  of joining hundreds of my preservation colleagues from around the U.S. in Austin, Texas at the 2010 National Preservation Conference – hosted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The conference provided solid information on a number of fronts on everything from dealing with density to the LEED EB O & M program. I thought I’d share a few takeaways from the conference that I hope are useful to preservationists and others.

1. Preservation = Jobs

This was but one of several themes running through the conference and it in 2010, it was perhaps the most important. Earlier this year, a Rutgers University report verified what we preservationists have long asserted. The Rutgers Report noted how the Federal Historic Tax Credit has helped create 1.8 million jobs in the past 30 years! To put this in a less abstract way, I think this study shows – and as preservation economist Donovan Rypkema has long asserted – that preservation work is more labor intensive than new construction. Rather than sending money off to some far away place, preservation work, often “keeps things local” providing an economic boost for everyone from the window restorer working on a historic building to the restaurant owner who sells them lunch.

2.  Old buildings aren’t the energy hogs, we are.

Our historic and older buildings were often built to last, and to reflect the

Postcard of the Morgan Building from the Bosco-Milligan Foundation Collection

climate and region in which they are located. In most cases, building components – like windows – can be rehabilitated/repaired, made workable again and made more energy efficient. The first step to lowering our energy and resource consumption may be by “refusing to replace” such components until all other measures are considered and implemented. For example: replacing old windows or doors with new products will do little to offset energy loss, if your building is not properly insulated in the attic and walls and you have not addressed the major issue of air infiltration.

There is a great recent example here in Portland of what can be done in this regard with a historic commercial building. The 96 year old Morgan Building recently received LEED Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (EB O & M) certification. Now the building’s tenants can open windows rather than always relying on conditioned air. We certainly hope that owners of other older buildings see this sort of example and follow a similar path, even if they don’t want to go through the LEED process.

3.  Density

Hopefully, the era of density for its own sake is over. There is however, still pressure on our older urban neighborhoods to add additional housing.  One suggestion that I overheard in Austin, was that there is no need to tear down any building in the U.S. in order to achieve adequate density. Instead, we should simply focus on re-purposing existing surface parking lots and underutilized existing buildings in order to meet desired density goals. This could conserve energy and prevent waste while also helping to revitalize some of the oldest and historic parts of our city.

Another concept I heard discussed in Austin, was the relationship between density, sustainability, and historic preservation. It’s time that we consider preservation as something embodying more than just the “historic.” Today we might want to position ourselves more as building conservationists than merely focused on the historic. It’s time we give credence to the “background buildings” that make up our urban fabric. After all, they are often a big part of the enticement to people looking to live in neighborhoods with character.

Density does not have to be focused on the construction of  huge developments either. In many of our traditional neighborhoods, housing density could be increased by adding additional units to existing residences. This can happen in many ways from re-purposing existing garages to actually lifting houses to make basement spaces more accommodating.

Today’s talk about walkable neighborhoods (often referred to as 20-minute neighborhoods in Portland) refers directly to the sort of neighborhood character many preservationists have been working to preserve for years. In other words, preservation is not simply about nostalgia – but returning to (or re-invigorating) what already works in our urban environments.

Hopefully, some of these ideas help dispel the myth that preservationists are foes of “progress.” In fact that is far from the truth. While we do work tirelessly to save older buildings, we are not simply doing this to preserve the past. We also want to see a future in which the places we live, work, and play have patina (as Paul Goldbereger calls it), while also being fine examples of how we reduced the amount of resources we consume and the amount of energy we waste.

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Irvington Gains National Register Designation

It was announced earlier this week that the Irvington neighborhood has received its long-sought designation as a National Register Historic District. This is terrific and deserved news for one of Portland’s finest neighborhoods. Congratulations to the hundreds of volunteers that worked very hard on the nomination.

You can read more or download the nomination here.

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