Tag Archives: demolition

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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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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Filed under Historic Preservation, Infill Development, Sustainability