In the city of Portland there is a dearth of methods by which a neighborhood can work to protect their historic integrity. One of the only options is to seek a historic designation. With this in mind the Buckman Historic Association has been working tirelessly for more than two years to draft a nomination for a portion of the neighborhood to the National Register of Historic Places. This movement was in response to several redevelopment projects in Buckman that were whittling away at what was the first suburb in East Portland.
In recent months their work has come under fire, mostly from those concerned about the exorbitant fees charged by the City of Portland for their historic design review. Such fees could apply whenever a major exterior building alteration is proposed.
In response to various news reports, the BHA has released the following announcement about where things stand with their proposed historic district nomination:
When the effort began to form a historic district in Buckman, we had two main goals.
1. Improve neighborhood pride and cohesiveness
2. Protect our neighborhood’s historic resources and unique character through demolition review and design review.
After much feedback, we find that many residents are opposed to the concept of a historic district, mainly because of current design fees and the design review process. Additionally, we have discovered that demolition review only delays demolition, and does not halt it. We had also hoped it would be possible to develop our own design guidelines for the district. The city, despite having standards that are hard to interpret and, therefore, hard to enforce, does not want any help in developing new design review guidelines.
In the meantime, the Buckman Historic Association has committed to work with other Portland historic districts and historic preservation groups to campaign against the outrageous design review fees. We can’t say how long that might take and our success cannot be guaranteed. However, the historic association and volunteers have put in countless hours towards this project and the nomination is nearly complete. We are on track to have the application ready to hand in on March 1st. We don’t want to see our efforts go to waste, or to have to start over from the beginning at some future point, but we also see that continuing as planned would be harmful to the neighborhood.
A solution has appeared!
We have a chance to preserve our work, while also taking some time to pause, to bring the community together and to address the issues causing in ways we all find agreeable.
Our work can be submitted as a “Determination of Eligibility” (DOE), rather than as a nomination for a historic district. This gets our work on record but does not have the restrictions of a historic district. In the meantime, the state, and possibly the landmarks commission, would review and evaluate the DOE. No regulations would be imposed by the city. No design reviews. No demolition reviews. No new fees. If approved as a DOE, it would not become a full nomination until we initiated that process, which would involve outreach and the same review timeline as a historic district.
The Buckman Historic Association and neighbors opposing the historic district have joined together to share our views and to work towards finding solutions. Over the next few months, we’ll send out information, announcements and updates as we talk to our local politicians and plan gatherings, workshops and events. And as we head towards elections, the Buckman Neighborhood Association and other organizations around the city will host candidate forums and we encourage you to attend and participate.
As homeowners and renters, we all care about our community and are invested in seeing that Buckman is livable, safe and vibrant. Our neighborhood may not have the big houses and broad lawns of some of the other historic neighborhoods, but, as Portland’s first suburb, Buckman has a diversity, history, proximity and character that, very likely, drew you here, too.
It’s a shame that the BHA effort faces opposition to what is the only current solution for protecting this historic Portland neighborhood – a solution suggested by the City to the BHA. We should also recognize that buildings and neighborhoods don’t have to be opulent expressions of the gilded age in order to be historic. In fact, the city we live in and love was mostly built on the backs of those who lived in neighborhoods such as Buckman, Eliot, and Brooklyn. It’s time such neighborhoods received proper recognition.