Category Archives: Sustainability

Neighborhoods Beginning to Take Action Over Demolition Issue

Last night the Eastmoreland Neighborhood announced they would be staging a “park-in” to keep yet another demolition from occurring. Here’s the text of their announcement from their Facebook page:

DEMOLITION UPDATE:

The developer at 3620 SE Rural has circumvented the ENA’s 120 day delay for demolition and plans to raze the house tomorrow morning. A park-in to block the bulldozer may be the only way to prevent this violation of public trust and to prevent the work-around to our hard won delay. The park-in will be at 8am tomorrow morning at 3620 SE Rural to block the developer from tearing down this home. Cars need to be in place by 7:00am (or so). Details below:

This PM , neighbor Winky Wheeler received a door hanger demolition notice that the subject house at 3620 SE Rural will be demolished tomorrow effectively violating the 120 day delay imposed by the ENA. The details and confirmation of the delay may be found below. In conversation with Kareen Perkins who administers title 24 for the City she explained that the developer (among others) had found a work-around for the delay.

Yesterday, July 15, the applicant withdrew the demolition permit with the 120 day delay and pulled the permit applications for both houses applied for some weeks ago effectively violating the intent of the regulations. The neighborhood association was not notified of the event by the City as no notification is required. Following the withdraw of the original applications, the applicant filed for a permit for one house and received simultaneously a demolition permit with no delay.

The developer is operating within the one demolition for one permit application loophole that developers have maintained in place with the support of Commissioner Amanda Fritz and the DRAC (Development review advisory committee that is largely staffed with building owners and developers). The DRAC meets at 8 AM tomorrow-1900 SW 4th. Attendance is encouraged.

The developer previously applied to reconstitute and divide 3 substandard lots for narrow lot housing. That request has not yet been approved although other aspects of those permit applications were substantially approved. The application for the lot split challenged by the ENA was one reason for asking for a delay of the demolition. Emily Sandy at BDS is responsible for that review.
City Official emails for commenting on this and other demolitions are:

CHARLIE HALES, MAYOR, (503)823-4120
e-mail: mayorhales@portlandoregon.gov

NICK FISH, (503) 823-3589 
e-mail: Nick@portlandoregon.gov

AMANDA FRITZ, (503) 823-3008 
e-mail: amanda@portlandoregon.gov

STEVE NOVICK, (503) 823-4682
e-mail: Steve.Novick@portlandoregon.gov

DAN SALTZMAN, (503) 823-4151
e-mail: dan@portlandoregon.gov

This 1949 home at 3620 SE Rural is slated for demolition by home builder Renaissance Homes

This 1949 home at 3620 SE Rural is slated for demolition by Renaissance Homes

This morning, indeed there were several cars parked in front of the home, making it impossible for a bulldozer to access the house. This action certainly attracted the media as representatives from TV, radio, and print news were all on hand. After a brief discussion on a nearby side-street, Robert McCullough, the head of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association and Randy Sebastian, the head of Renaissance Homes, agreed to a one week delay of the demolition. As noted in their announcement above, the primary concerns here are not about the individual demolition, but how it was approved and what the new house(s) will look like in relationship to their neighbors and the neighborhood. It is clear that the City’s recently adopted demolition delay period has some pretty serious loopholes, the biggest of which is that there is no delay if a developer wants to demolish and replace a single house with another single house. In this case, Renaissance readily admitted to the media that they will eventually build at least two houses on the property, even though their circumvention of the delay period was based on only a single house replacing the existing one. So while cooler heads have prevailed for the moment, the frustrations over demolition policy continue.

The current policy regarding demolition in Portland is not working. But beyond that the situation with this house exemplifies a disturbing trend in the city. Builders keep snatching up such homes, like this one on Rural Street, knowing that they can build something bigger and new, and then sell it for a significant profit. The result is that a house that is perfectly sound and usable (but probably in need of some refreshing), as well as somewhat affordable ($375,000 in this instance), will be replaced by a home or homes ranging from $500,000 to over $1 million. If neighbors are outraged about this sort of “change” it isn’t just because a new house is coming in, it is because the more this happens the less affordable these neighborhoods become, meaning that young families and such are completely priced out of the market and forced to look for housing elsewhere and further away from the city center.

Another issue here is the complete lack of consideration given to the existing homes. During the park-in this morning, Mr. Sebastian mentioned more than once how the house on Rural Street was “functionally obsolete”. If we are to accept the argument of functional obsolescence then we may as well tear every old house down, because what the developers really mean is that the house is just old and, since they are in the business of building new, it doesn’t fit their business model.

There is also an environmental sustainability factor here that must not be forgotten. Every time we knock down these older homes tons of building waste is sent off to our landfills. In too many instances little or none of these materials are recycled in a meaningful way. It is not enough that the news homes replacing the old ones are LEED certified. Reports have shown that older homes can be made virtually as energy efficient as the new ones and that in doing so, the river of demolition debris is greatly mitigated. It is absolutely amazing that in Portland, a city that loves to tout its sustainability work, there is continued support for the wanton destruction of the environmental and social (i.e. livability and sense of place) legs of the three-legged sustainability stool.

On July 31st at 2:00PM, the Portland Landmarks Commission will be making a presentation to the Portland City Council on the demolition issue. We hope that many of our fellow historic preservation and neighborhood livability supporters will attend this presentation at City Hall (1221 SW 4th Ave.). The City Council needs to see that people really care deeply and are upset by what is happening in Eastmoreland and many other Portland neighborhoods, so much so that they are beginning to act with park-ins and it is possible that other forms of civil disobedience may not be far behind.

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Demolition Derby Continues

As we recently reported, it seems that building demolitions in Portland are continuing unabated, or at least the continued threat of demolition is still out there. The Markham House in Laurelhurst is still in danger of being demolished, even though we’ve heard that the new owner has offered to sell the house to someone interested in fixing the house up - so long as he can serve as the general contractor. The petition to save the house is still gaining signatures, but it remains to be seen if the new owner will listen to the concerns of what is now nearly 2,000 people.

Demolition in Portland continues to run rampant and unabated. This morning a wrecking crew began to knock down the former Jarra’s Ethiopian Restaurant on SE Hawthorne. The photo should give everyone pause, as it shows just how haphazardly these demolitions occur. While it is understandable that not every building can be saved, there is little sustainable about smashing and mashing up the old growth framing and trim in a 100+ year old building. What will happen to that wood? Is it not enough that we’ve cleared out virtually all of the old growth timber in the Northwest, and now we’re going to let it all get ground into garden mulch?

The demolition of the former Jarra's Restaurant on SE Hawthorne.

The demolition of the former Jarra’s Restaurant on SE Hawthorne.

It seems almost daily that there is word of more proposed demolitions. While it is understood that some houses may simply be past the point of any sort of rehab, there is too much subjectivity as to where that line is crossed. In far too many instances, builders are blaming the house for the demolition, disregarding the fact that their ability to purchase what you might call “fragile” homes with cash, often means that those potential homeowners, who would lovingly restore an old house if they had the chance, are being beaten to the punch.

Here is a list of some additional homes that we’ve been told are in danger of being demolished (some demolitions may have already begun):

1525 SE 35th Place

4307 NE 7th

623 & 633 NE Thompson

5129 SE Ellis

7405 N Olin

8125 & 8137 SE Ash

Will it ever stop?

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Demolition Issues Continue to Aggravate Neighborhoods

In case you missed it, last week there was a discussion at Concordia university about the ongoing demolition issues in Portland. The auditorium was packed, with many people even sitting on the floor. AHC executive director Cathy Galbraith was honored to be part of the panel discussion, following up on her recent Portland Preservation blog post about demolitions with suggestions for what the City might consider doing to address demolitions in Portland. The meeting has since been posted to YouTube, so if you were unable to attend, you can now watch the meeting here.

Sadly however, demolition concerns continue to grow in Portland. This week we all learned about the proposed demolition of a wonderful 1890s home in northwest Portland’s Willamette Heights – another instance where the home has no protections against demolition and the new owners claim that the repairs needed in the home are far greater than they are willing to spend. Their offer to have the home deconstructed before they build something new is being met with considerable opposition. If you haven’t kept up with this story, it has gotten quite a bit of press from local media outlets and even online petitioners, who are asking the homeowners to reconsider the demolition of this fine historic home.

If you want to learn more about this demolition story here are some links that might be helpful:

http://www.oregonlive.com/front-porch/index.ssf/2014/06/google_executive_kevin_rose_pl.html#incart_river

http://valleywag.gawker.com/kevin-rose-infuriates-portland-over-plans-to-demolish-h-1593525844/+aleksanderchan

http://www.kptv.com/story/25825760/plans-to-demolish-nw-portland-home-outrages-neighbors

Online Petition via Change.org

If you see any other news stories related to this demolition please email them to info@VisitAHC.org so we can add them to this list.

Demolitions in Portland continue to be a growing concern. We are doing what we can at the Architectural Heritage Center to help people better understand the situation and to come up with solutions that will conserve our wonderful neighborhoods for years to come. To accomplish this we need your help. Please consider becoming an AHC member or perhaps even a volunteer. Together, we can make a difference.

 

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Demolition of Single Family Houses – the Epidemic Continues

By Cathy Galbraith

If anything, the epidemic of demolition of single-family homes has only accelerated and concerns across the city of Portland neighborhoods are red hot. An estimated 389 demolitions took place in 2013; it’s rumored that a-demo-per-work-day is happening in 2014. It’s next to impossible to argue about the appeal to a home-owner looking for a quick and easy sale…all-cash offers for a house in “as-is” condition, saving any real estate commissions, no worries about underground oil tanks, dry rot, and poor insulation. Defects just don’t matter when demo-and-replacement is planned.

For the builder/developer, the economics are a sure bet. One single family home, whether exceptionally “modest” or “very nice” is purchased and then replaced with a much bigger and more expensive home (often more than one.) Given the great neighborhoods-with-character locations, these new high-end houses command top sale prices with guaranteed profit margins for the builders. They no longer need to worry about recouping the costs of a new subdivision, like installing utilities, access roads, and sidewalks. Instead, they are filling up the mail boxes of homeowners with enticing “quick sale – close in days” offers, looking for houses to buy and demolish.

So how can we counter the scraping away of a house that may be worth $475,000 if the replacement house can sell for $975,000 – - and there may be more than one new house? That’s the tough nut to crack and the City of Portland has made it exceptionally easy for the demo-and-replace builders – - while exceptionally disruptive on the surrounding owners and residents. The city’s impetus seems to be “density” (or maybe it’s conflict avoidance with the builders/proponents…) and trust me here – - it is definitely not the Urban Growth Boundary. Someone once told me that “planners don’t get paid to keep things the same” but I find it ludicrous when planning documents (and campaigning elected officials) talk about “Portland’s celebrated neighborhoods” and then proposes absolutely nothing to protect the character that makes those neighborhoods so celebrated! It’s the context of vintage homes that blend so well with one another, the consistent use of high-quality materials, the regularity of setbacks, and the mature landscaping and trees – - that’s what helps make up the character and it’s what disappears with demolition and replacement.

After much debate, discussion, and a very practical look at the many issues at play, we propose the following potential “fixes” as a start:

(1) While notice to surrounding property owners, in and of itself, is not much of a fix, it does let neighbors prepare for noise, dust, and the possible exposure to environmental hazards (like asbestos.) Right now, notice is only now (recently) required by the city when more than one new house is proposed. There’s no notice/delay when a demo application and the replacement house permit are filed the same day. Asking builders to provide notice voluntarily (under discussion at the City) doesn’t cut it, if few builders do it. Either the city should require notice across the board, or provide an incentive for notice – - like a reduction in the cost of a building permit.

(2) Change the definition of “demolition” in the city’s development code – a big problem is that any demolition that leaves any portion of a house still standing (such as a partial foundation wall) is called an “alteration” or “remodel”, not a demolition (which are seriously under-counted, as a result.) More typically, many other jurisdictions use “at least 50% of a structure remains standing” as the primary criteria for an alteration/remodel. If that’s reasonable enough for other cities and counties, it should be acceptable for Portland.

(3) Houses that are obviously historic (but unprotected) are those that have long been listed on the city’s 1983 Historic Resources Inventory, but many houses have reached the age of 50+ since then. We propose a mandatory 120 delay for houses on the HRI or at least 50+ years old. These are likely the ones that need time for investigating alternatives to demolition. (The historic-but-unprotected late 1800s Goldsmith House in NW Portland was purchased by a group of NWDA activists (including our board member Rick Michaelson) from the demo/developer, just in time to save it from certain demolition.)

(4) Require that existing front and side yard setbacks be maintained for the new house(s) -  One major concern is that after a demolition, a new house is not only usually bigger, but it covers much more of the lot, often changing the streetscape substantially. If the front and side-yard setbacks stay the same for the new house, the streetscape remains more like it’s traditional neighbors. Expansion in size of the new house should be allowed only at the rear of the site, minimizing impact on the street and to the side yards of its adjacent neighboring houses.

These provisions are a start at getting a handle on the demolition epidemic that’s only growing. We’ll be airing these on our blog and elsewhere as we look for the willingness of our elected officials to respond to the firestorm of concern that’s also only continuing to grow across our city and throughout “Portland’s celebrated neighborhoods”

 

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An Epidemic of Demolitions

By Cathy Galbraith

Something insidious is happening and Portland’s traditional neighborhoods are seeing the cumulative effects of the growing epidemic of the demolition of single-family homes. There is something at work here…perhaps it’s the combination of house “flippers,” people who like closer-in locations but want a house that’s brand new…BUT how can the costs of acquisition, demolition, and new construction be anything but enormous? Perhaps that’s beside the point. What we do know is that in early-December, 2013 the city had already issued at least 230 demolition permits for the year-to-date. Residents in SE and NE Portland have sounded the alarm bells, knowing all too well that among the impacts are the continuing loss of the qualities that make up a neighborhood’s character and its physical identity.

The epidemic is even likely worse, since the city of Portland defines a “demolition” as the complete removal of a structure. Any number of what most of us would consider a “demolition” before building a new house is something different—if any part of the first house is left standing—like a single partial wall. That wrinkle lets a builder off the hook for public notification of neighbors; permits for these projects can even be classified as an “alteration” or an “addition,” not a “demolition.”

In an era of growing understanding that “the greenest building is the one that’s already built” how can Portland be heading in exactly the opposite direction? Perhaps it’s just another aspect of the “growth is good” mantra that permeates the Comprehensive Plan update…and the perceived city tendency to bend over backwards to allow (some would say encourage) admittedly unusual proposals like the 56 “micro-units” that will replace ONE single family home on NW Thurman Street. The Comprehensive Plan update is intended to address the next 25 years…at the rate we are going, how many houses will we lose just in the next five years?

Portland is a city that’s rightfully concerned about important environmental issues like its “carbon footprint.” In mid-2012, before the demolitions epidemic, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Preservation Green Lab” (based in Seattle) published a study on the environmental benefits of historic preservation, including the finding that for a new house in PORTLAND, it would take 50 years (!!!) to overcome the impacts of its construction. Among its findings, it presumed that Portland would demolish 1% of its building stock over the next 10 years. The study concluded that by retrofitting and reusing them—instead of demolishing and building new energy-efficient ones—it could meet a whopping 15% of Multnomah County’s total CO2 reduction targets over the same 10 years!

There are no easy answers to the housing demolition epidemic, but we will be calling people together soon to attempt to find some resolution. Please watch our website (www.VisitAHC.org) or sign up for our e-news to learn more about this new initiative.

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Survey Seeks Your Opinions on Parking and Design of New Apartment Buidings

Amid growing concern over the lack of parking requirements for new apartments being built around town, the Citywide Land Use Group has prepared a survey on the subject and is now seeking public input.  There are only a few days left to fill out the survey, but it is important that city leaders understand how new apartments, however much-needed, are having a major impact on Portland’s traditional neighborhoods. As an example, we will soon be losing two classic homes over on Hawthorne, all in the name of density. Streets like Division and Williams Avenue have also been seriously impacted by new apartment construction.

But this issue is not just about the parking either. Some of the survey questions get at other issues related to design and zoning and how new construction impacts adjacent and nearby neighborhood buildings.

If you are concerned about such issues, please take a few minutes and complete the survey.

The deadline to fill it out is Saturday, November 10th.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY

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New Report Sheds Light on Window Retrofits vs. Window Replacement

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has quietly been operating its Preservation Green Lab for a few years now and we’re finally starting to see quantifiable data verifying what preservationists have long believed – replacement windows are not the best option for home weatherization measures. With the help of the Cascadia Green Building Council and Seattle-based Ecotope, the Green Lab has issued this new report which makes it clear that storm windows combined with cellular shades is probably the best solution to weatherizing windows in our older and historic homes.

Portland was one of the cities reflected in this study, so the report should be seen as even more relevant to the owners of the thousands of Portland area homes built with traditional wood windows – most prior to World War II.

So what are a few of the takeaways from this important study?

1. Retrofitting your old windows can give you energy performance similar to that of replacement windows.

2. Nearly all retrofit measures provide a better return on investment than replacement windows.

3. The average initial cost for replacement windows in Portland is roughly twice that of a combination of exterior storm windows and insulated cellular shades. When you combine that with the fact that the average energy savings between these two types of weatherization measures is a mere 2-3 percentage points, you can see why replacement windows are, by far, not the best option.

You can read more about the report on the National Trust’s website here.

One final note for owners of designated historic homes:  Interior weatherization measures like installing insulated cellular shades or interior window panels, probably won’t trigger those historic design review fees that many in Portland are (rightfully) up in arms about.  So not only can you save money and energy, you might also save the hassle and cost of that process.

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Historic Preservationists to Attend Upcoming City Council Meeting

At the Wednesday, March 7th, 9:30AM meeting of the Portland City Council, historic preservationists from around the city are planning to gather in support of reforms to the historic design review process and fee structure. This comes in the wake of recent concerns raised in the Buckman neighborhood (and elsewhere) over the exorbitant fees for even minor exterior changes to a building in a designated historic district.  Preservationists are encouraged to show up and show City Council that these places matter – even if you don’t wish to testify.

There’s more information at this Facebook event site.

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Public Comments on the DRAFT Portland Plan Due by December 28th – Where’s Historic Preservation?

Written public comments for the draft Portland Plan must be submitted by December 28th. Bosco-Milligan Foundation executive director Cathy Galbraith presented testimony at a recent public hearing on the Portland Plan, expressing concern that nowhere in the document is the term historic preservation even mentioned.  In fact, there is only one reference to “historic resources” to be found in the draft document – a big disappointment to those who have worked tirelessly over the past few years to keep the conversation about historic preservation moving forward.

In addition to concerns over the lack of mentioning historic preservation, here are some other excerpts from the Bosco-Milligan Foundation’s comments about the Portland Plan draft. Please consider sending your own comments to the city before the 12/28 deadline.

Entirely absent from the Plan is any acknowledgement of the existing Historic Resources Inventory

The issue of “community character” in the traditional neighborhoods is a concern that was raised time and time again in the earlier Portland Plan workshops. The omission of this concern throughout most of the Plan is an oversight that needs to be addressed now.

The Plan’s segment on Complete Neighborhoods cites (page 101) the need to “increase housing in areas with services” while ignoring the earlier description that these areas are primarily built out. 

We do want Portland to at long last be a leader in social sustainability (page 10) – as important as and equal to environmental sustainability that has been the focus of much of the city’s efforts. Avoiding displacement and understanding and preserving historic and cultural connections should be an overriding goal of any equity agenda. The once-celebrated Albina Community Plan (1993) led to the start of displacement in N/NE; it was well-intentioned, but has long been described as “aspirational.” What’s relevant for the Portland Plan is that many of the lofty “action steps” that have gone unfulfilled in the Albina Community Plan read much like those in the proposed Portland Plan.

The Plan includes a city role in “helping to catalyze complementary local development” (page 25) for expansion of PCC Cascade, and “Develop new land use investment approaches to support the growth & neighborhood compatibility of college and hospital campuses in the comprehensive plan update” (page 47.)  Our concern is the expansion through demolition and displacement that has been typically practiced by these institutions. A more important first step should be the public deliberation and adoption of institutional “master plans”, before it’s presumed that college and hospital campus expansions will be undertaken without detriment to the surrounding neighborhoods.

The historic preservation community, property owners in Portland’s Historic Districts, and developers are now assertively raising the issue of the city’s unreasonably high historic design review fees, in particular; the $3,000+ application fee for individual landmark designation has already proven to be a disincentive for designation, with a total of two such applications in the past nine years. Portland’s historic design review (and landmarks designation) fees are higher than all other Oregon jurisdictions and higher than for any comparably sized municipality throughout the U.S.

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Latest News on the Old Waverly Baby Home

As Portland Preservation reported last month, plans are underway to redevelop  the old Waverly Baby Home at 3550 SE Woodward in Portland. Although not designated as historic by the City of Portland or any other entity, this building has major historical  significance, and not just because the main building is of a fine architectural quality. Perhaps more importantly, this building has a lengthy social history as a home for orphans and other children. So it is sad to report that demolition plans for the site are moving forward.

Earlier in the week we learned that the current owners of the property (Trillium Family Services) have applied for a demolition permit for the building. The building is listed on the City’s Historic Resource Inventory (HRI) with a rank of II, so we thought that there would at least be a demolition delay, but alas no such luck. Apparently Trillium has asked to have the building removed from the HRI, and according to City regulations, that is all they have to do – ask. Once the removal from the HRI is processed, the demolition will likely be allowed to proceed without delay.

Regardless of what you think about the plans for the new development on the Waverly Baby Home, doesn’t this seem like a wasted opportunity? Couldn’t they have come up with a plan that was far more creative and neighborhood friendly, as well as sensitive to the historical significance of the site? Shouldn’t there be some sort of mechanism in place to prevent such needless demolitions from occurring? And how sustainable is it to demolish a rather massive brick building to replace it piecemeal with single family residences? It could take years for the new development to fill out, in the meantime we will have lost another small chapter of our past.

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