AHC Comments on Portland’s Proposed Demolition Tax

President Fred Leeson will be testifying about the Architectural Heritage Center’s support of the Demolition Tax being considered at the Portland City Council meeting on Wednesday, November 25, at 9:45 AM. We have also submitted written testimony, which is found below.

Dear Mayor Hales and Council Members:

The Architectural Heritage Center (AHC) wishes to thank Mayor Hales for bringing back to Council the issue of a proposed $25,000 tax to tip the balance in favor of rehabilitation over demolition of single family homes in single family zones.

We strongly support the demolition tax proposal with the amendment that removes the density rebate for additional houses in single family zones.

In addition we support additional amendments that would:

1) make the money raised by the demolition tax available for rehabilitation and affordable home ownership;

2) levy the $25,000 tax on a per-tax-lot basis; and

3) review the program for impact after one year.

Clearly, strategies and programs beyond this demolition tax will be needed to protect the character of Portland’s neighborhoods and to provide an adequate supply of affordable housing. Conservation of existing buildings is one of the best strategies to address affordable housing and livability.

The AHC seeks to preserve the historic character and livability of Portland’s built environment and promote sustainability through the re-use of period homes and buildings. As you consider the impacts of the continuing demolition epidemic, we offer our expertise to help arrive at reasonable approaches and solutions.


Cathy Galbraith

Executive Director


The Architectural Heritage Center is owned and operated by the Bosco-Milligan Foundation.

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Portland’s Demolition Delay Rules and Your Neighborhood

AHC vice president, Steve Dotterrer

Portland’s new demolition delay requirements went into effect on April 20, 2015. The automatic 35-day delay and the possibility of a 60-day extension for a total delay of 95 days, may seem like a long time (especially if you are the developer). Almost everyone, however, who has been involved in trying to save a house will tell you that it takes much longer and will be more work than you expected. The rewards are great, but it is worth spending some time now to be prepared.

If you live in a neighborhood where demolitions are likely and you care about existing character (and don’t we all?) it is a good idea to gather some advance knowledge, before you receive notice of demolition.

  1. Do you know what the new demolition rules are?

See http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/article/525779 to get started.  There are links to lots of specific information there.

The demolition delay of 35 days and the notification requirement applies to all Demolition Permits and also to Major Alteration Permits.  The possibility of an extension for 60 additional days is only available in the case where a demolition is proposed.  To get the extension requires that an appeal form be filed.

  1. Do you know the requirements for an appeal?

All Appeals must include:

  • Copy of the letter sent to the property owner requesting a meeting to discuss alternatives to demolition. Include a copy of the certified or registered mail receipt(s).
  • Evidence of the property’s significance to the neighborhood.
  • Narrative describing the plan to save the structure (buying the existing house and site, or arranging to move the house to another site etc.).
  • Pro-forma budget and evidence of funds on hand or a fund raising plan sufficient to meet the financial requirements of that budget
  • The appeal cost is $1318 and can only be waived if the appeal is filed by the recognized Neighborhood Association.
  1. Do you know your neighborhood zoning?

The demolition delay provisions only apply to the demolition of single family houses.  Apartments or commercial and institutional building demolitions are not subject to these delays.  The demolition delay provisions also apply only to certain lands in the City – those that are zoned R for residential.  This includes both the traditional single family and most multi-family zoned areas.  The city’s “Main Streets” are often a mix of R zones and commercial zones, so these provisions for notice and delay will only apply to some of the houses on those streets.  Get to know your zoning and if any of the houses in your neighborhood are subject to even greater review because they are landmarks or in historic districts.  You can find out your neighborhood zoning at the BDS website (www.portlandoregon.gov/bds) or at Portlandmaps.com.

  1. Do you know your neighbors and your association representatives?

To save an existing house under these rules you have to have a fairly extensive plan and access to some funds.  Few of us have the time and money to do this on our own.  Even to get the sixty day extension means meeting with the owner who proposes the demolition and understanding what would get them to resell the property to a buyer willing to keep the house.   It also means having an estimate of the costs involved in keeping the existing building, if any, or moving it to a new location.  In addition, you will need an initial estimate of the costs and a financing or fundraising plan. Getting all this done in thirty days is hard work, so knowing in advance your neighbors and their willingness to spend time and money saving a house is a good idea.  So when you have your neighborhood block party or barbecue this summer, talk to your neighbors about these issues – which buildings or areas are critical to you?  What are the different skills that people might offer for any rescue effort?  Who is skilled at negotiation?  At research?  It will take a team to get the house saved—who do you want on your team?

Get to know your official Neighborhood Association Representatives.  They can save you money on the appeal and are a good source of advice on how to proceed.

Members of Architectural Heritage Center have had some inspiring successes saving houses — like the Goldsmith House in NW, and also in moving houses. These successes happened under old rules. The new rules give advocates some “official” time to make the save.  But it is a good idea to be prepared.  Are you ready?

At the AHC, we follow a number of the demolition proposals and are working at the policy level to strengthen the rules and regulations for demolitions.  We often comment and raise concerns when significant historic houses are proposed for demolition. Remember, this is a city-wide issue and the same process applies to most demolition applications.

by Steve Dotterrer; Architectural Heritage Center Board Vice President and Advocacy Committee Chair

Reprinted from “News and Notes,” the quarterly newsletter of the Architectural Heritage Center


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Support the Revitalize Main Street Act!

AHC members are encouraged to share their voice and their feet in regard to an important bill coming up for consideration in the state Senate Finance Committee – the Revitalize Main Street Act (SB 565). This bill would create an Historic Rehabilitation Fund for repair and renovation of commercial buildings all around the state, and in turn stimulate economic development and cultural sustainability.

Introduced by Restore Oregon, the bill would provide a 25% rebate for work on historic buildings which is certified to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. The fund will be capped at $12,000,000 per year. The Senate Finance Committee is likely to make a decision on March 4 at an 8:30 am meeting in the State Capitol Hearing Room A, 900 Court St NE, Salem, 97301.

The immediate goal is to get the bill passed out of the Senate Finance Committee so that it can proceed to the next legislative steps. Please support Restore Oregon’s efforts by sending emails to your state legislators asking them to contact their Finance Committee colleagues and ask them to vote yes on this important measure, and attend the hearing and voice your support.

Buildings + history make the start of a wonderful equation equaling the saving of the past for the present and future. However, an additional factor is needed to make the preservation equation possible — dollars and cents. This bill is a very important part of preserving and maintaining the tangible brick and wood and mortar and stone that allow us to actually touch the past. Please voice your support and continue to follow the process of the bill.

You can find more information here: http://restoreoregon.org/time-to-testify-sb565/

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Irvington Historic District Boundaries Challenged

The Oregon State Historic Preservation Office has received a completed application by a group of Irvington Historic District property owners seeking to reduce the district boundaries. The application proposes the removal of all or part of 27 blocks in an area bounded by Fremont on the north, Knott Street on the south, 21st Avenue on the west, and the existing boundary near 27th Avenue to the east. The district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in November, 2010.

The Irvington Community Association (ICA), which sponsored the original historic district nomination, has engaged Kirk Ranzetta, the professional historian who prepared that nomination, to assist in developing the case against the boundary change. The ICA intends to oppose this change with all the resources at its disposal.

In its partnership role with the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources, the AHC will be considering responses to the proposal, which is extremely detrimental to the principles establishing historic districts, and could set damaging precedents for districts around the nation. The Architectural Heritage Center is opposed to this proposed change in the district boundaries.

The State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation will consider this application on Friday, February 20, 2015, at which time testimony will be taken from parties concerned with this case. The complete application and re-nomination that would effect this change can be downloaded here. For distribution to the SACHP prior to their meeting, send public comments to Ian Johnson at the State Historic Preservation Office by January 19: Ian.Johnson@oregon.gov, or Ian Johnson, Oregon Heritage, Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept., 725 Summer St NE, Ste C, Salem OR 97301. Comments sent in later can be distributed to the SACHP at their February 19-20 meeting.


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Portland City Council Hearing Regarding Building Demolition Code

Architectural Heritage Center president Fred Leeson was one of more than 20 people to testify at last week’s Portland City Council hearing regarding amendments to the Building Demolition Code. As not everyone was able to speak, the hearing has been continued to February 12, 2015 at 2 pm. In the meantime, you can read Fred’s testimony below.

On February 12th, the only people who can testify are those who had already signed up for the December hearing and could not be heard. You can write a letter or email and send to the Mayor and City Council and we encourage you to do so.

Here is Fred’s  December 17th testimony to the Portland City Council:

I am Fred Leeson, board president of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation and its Architectural Heritage Center.  We have been an active member of the Portland Coalition for Historic Preservation and provided a venue for many of its meetings.

One of our primary concerns entering this process was a definition of demolition.  Many cities, including Ashland, Oregon, Berkeley and Pasadena, California and Amherst. Massachusetts, define it as a loss of a specified percent of roof structure or exterior walls – commonly 50 to 60 percent.  We regret that DRAC chose NOT to accept this kind of definition as recommended by the Landmarks Commission.

The idea of a 50% or 60% rule was to encompass “virtual demolitions” that left little or nothing standing of the original house.  These will now be captured by the “Major Remodel” category, a new category included in this package.  At first, it seems to be a distinction without a difference, since the same 35 delay would apply to a demolition as well as to a major remodel.

So why is the major remodel in there?  I suspect there is some sort of “gamesmanship” involved that we will discover over time.  If the council eventually adopts a 120-day demolition delay, as we hope the council will, the potential for fudging becomes apparent. Leaving a chimney or a single door standing would be a “major remodel” rather than a demolition.  The loophole would be almost big enough to drive a bulldozer through.   I think there are grounds for skepticism whenever any particular industry writes its own regulations.

We hope that BDS will publish permit information on line so that we can track demolition and major remodels in coming months.  Tracking those statistics will help us determine how effective the changes have been and help us monitor the application of the major remodel category.

Not every house should be saved.  But when the exceptions come along, we need tools to allow opportunities to protect them.  Once they are gone…they are gone… along with the adverse impacts on sustainability, moderate-income housing, neighborhood compatibility and sense of place.

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Laurelhurst Booklets Shed Light on Early Days of Neighborhood

c.1912 map of the Laurelhurst neighborhood. Source: Architectural Heritage Center

c.1912 map of the Laurelhurst neighborhood and surroundings. Source: Architectural Heritage Center

With October being Archives month, plus with all the interest in Laurelhurst these days (most notably the Markham House on NE 32nd and Glisan), we thought we’d share a couple of Laurelhurst real estate booklets from the Architectural Heritage Center library.

The first, entitled Laurelhurst – The Addition with Character is from c.1912.

c.1912 image of the F. F. Meade residence. Source: Architectural Heritage Center

c.1912 image of the F. F. Meade residence. Source: Architectural Heritage Center

You can download a FREE copy of the 1912 booklet here!

The second booklet Laurelhurst and Its Park is a reprint from a booklet that dates to 1916.

Several Laurelhurst homes from the booklet Laurehurst and Its Park c.1916. Source: Architectural Heritage Center

Several Laurelhurst homes from the booklet Laurehurst and Its Park c.1916. Source: Architectural Heritage Center

You can download a FREE copy of the re-printed 1916 booklet here!

As we noted, October is Archives month. We hope you’ll support your local archives and check out the Oregon Archives Crawl this Saturday, October 18th. The Architectural Heritage Center will have a table at the Oregon Historical Society. We hope you’ll come see us!

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United Neighborhoods and PCHR Petition City Council

The United Neighborhoods for Reform and the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources have posted a petition on Change.org in regard to developing approaches for solving the demolition problem. Directed at the Portland City Council and the Development Review Advisory Committee, the petition’s six points are sound, practical, and potentially effective in tilting the balance away from neighborhood frustration over not having time to respond to proposed demolitions.

Please consider making your voice heard by signing the petition, and feel free to circulate the link.

You can find the petition here:

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