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Neighbors hope history will save old homes

Residents work with city, builders to slow demolitions


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Longtime Northeast Glisan Street resident Loretta Forman plants a sign showing her support for saving a historic home in her neighborhood.Recent controversies over the proposed demolition of three historic homes proves the city is not doing enough to protect such culturally significant properties, say local preservationists and neighborhood activists.

Some advocates are proposing changes to city policies to reduce the growing number of demolitions and save more older homes. None of their proposals has been adopted.

Two of the recently contested homes are in Northwest Portland and one is in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. All three were on the Historic Resources Inventory compiled by the city in 1984.

Being on the list is supposed to trigger a public notice and 120-day delay before demolition can start. But in all three cases, developers requested the homes be taken off the list the same day they applied for the demolition permits, and the city’s Bureau of Development Services complied.

The most recent home to become the focus of such a conflict is the Markham House at 3206 N.E. Glisan St. Built in 1911, it was the first house in what would become the Laurelhurst neighborhood, serving as the office for the realtor who sold the homes built in the following years. The Historic Resources Inventory listing for the house describes the style as California Mission and says it features include a gable roof finished with glazed clay tiles and exterior finished in smooth stucco. One side of the Laurelhurst Gate announcing the entrance to the neighborhood is on the northwest corner of the property.

Despite its historic significance, the house and grounds have fallen into disrepair. In recent years, the sloped driveway to a garage in the back of the house was bulldozed and replaced with a flat parking slab. The front porch and parts of the exterior walls were covered with newer tiles. Cracks are showing in some exterior walls and the garage appears on the verge of falling down. The interior, though largely complete, is dirty and in need of numerous repairs.

The previous owners sold the house on a short sale to developer Peter Kusyk. He is considering replacing it with two homes, which is allowed under the existing zoning because the lot can be divided. Or he might be willing to work with a buyer who wants to renovate it.

Although neighbors heard the house might be for sale, they were surprised when Kusyk bought it because there had been no advertising, lawn signs or open houses. Jennifer Moffatt, who lives just east of the house on Glisan, heads a group of neighbors opposed to the potential demolition and redevelopment project. It includes a Facebook page and online petition opposing the demolition.

“If there was a requirement that the sale or demolition of historic homes be publicized, preservationists might step forward and buy them,” says Kusyk.

The other two homes are the Goldsmith House at 1507 N.W. 24th Ave. and a house purchased by Google executive Kevin Rose and his wife at 1627 N.W. 32nd Ave. Both were saved when neighbors stepped in to buy them.

Neighborhood initiatives

Such controversies are expected to increase as the economy continues to recover and developers look for more sites to build new homes for the thousands of people and families expected to move to Portland in coming years. According to local home builders, in some parts of town, the marketplace currently supports the demolition of existing homes and the construction of one or more replacements. Although many of the homes that have been demolished recently have little historic value, some have been officially recognized as contributing to the evolution and character of the city.

In response, preservationists and neighborhood activists are proposing a number of new policies to slow the pace of demolitions. One proposal came from the Architectural Heritage Center, a local nonprofit preservation organization. In a blog posting on the “Epidemic of Demolitions,” the organization recommended:

• Mandatory advance notice of all demolitions to surrounding property owners.

• Change the definition of “demolition” in the development code to include the alteration or remodeling at 50 percent or more of an existing structure.

• A mandatory 120-day delay in demolitions for all houses on the Historic Resources Inventory or at least more than 50 years old.

• Require that existing front and side yard setbacks be maintained for the new house or houses to minimize the impact on the existing neighborhood.

Another proposal was adopted by the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association, which represents a large portion of Southeast Portland where a number of demolitions have taken place. Its Neighborhood Demolition Initiative would require mandatory delays and ensure that all homes to be torn down are inspected for hazardous materials by licensed contractors.

The Bureau of Development Services recently began urging developers to voluntarily notify nearby homeowners of pending demolitions. The agency has printed door hangers to developers that can be distributed in the neighborhoods. Such notice is not required, however.

Inventory’s effectiveness

The city’s Historic Resources Inventory is only one way of designating historic properties. Other methods offer more protections, such as listings on national or local historical registries, or being included in historic or conservation districts. Both those steps usually require the approval of the owners of the properties, and many are reluctant to do so because they include restrictions on alterations.

That may be why many more properties in Portland are listed on the Historic Resources Inventory than any other registry or district list. According to city records, 5,158 properties are included on the Historic Resource Inventory, more than twice the number of any other listing, including a number of historic and conservation districts in town. The inventory was compiled to comply with a statewide land-use planning goal — Goal 5 — that requires cities to inventory more than a dozen resources, including historic properties.

But the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability acknowledged the Historic Resources Inventory provides no real protection against demolition, in a background report prepared for the Portland Plan in fall 2009. The report also says the Historic Resources Inventory is woefully incomplete because it has not been updated in 20 years to include additional properties that are now considered historic or properties in parts of the city that have been annexed since 1984, which includes much of East Portland.

“East Portland has few protected historic resources, lacks an adequate inventory of has had little historic preservation planning,” according to the report.

The Portland Plan, which was approved by the City Council in April 2102, informs the update of the city’s comprehensive land-use plan that is underway. But the draft comp plan update scheduled to be released on July 21 is not expected to recommend any additional protections to any properties on the Historic Resources Inventory. It is likely to reflect the report, which said updating the Historic Resources Inventory would be expensive and time

consuming.

“Comprehensively updating the HRI on a citywide level would require a considerable commitment of resources,” according to the report.

Instead, the report recommends that the city seek avenues for “targeted approaches to addressing historic preservation needs.”

The Portland Plan report also acknowledges the conflict between preservationists and developers without taking sides.

“Redevelopment pressure on designated and potentially significant historic resources is already evident in some neighborhoods and the scale and design of infill development is often controversial, in places expected to experience higher density and development in the future, the existing and historic built environment and landscape may be at additional risk,” according to the report. “A balance between preservation goals and other policy objectives must be achieved, and tools must be developed to sensibly manage change.”