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Home demolition controversy headed to City Council

The City Council is expected to get an earful about the issue of existing homes being demolished for infill projects on Thursday.

The Portland Historic Landmarks Commission calls the increasing number of demolitions "something of an epidemic" in its annual State of the City Preservation Report, which is scheduled to be presented to the council at 2 p.m. on July 31.

Preservations and neighborhood activists are expected to jam the council meeting to demand action.

"This epidemic of single-family home demolitions erodes the character and culture of our neighborhoods, promotes and accelerates gentrification, creates a negative environmental impact, and disincentives historic preservation," reads the report.

Home demolitions and infill projects are increasing as the economy improves. Approximately 200 demolition applications were received last year and the number is expected to be higher this year. Neighbors throughout the city are already complaining about single-family homes on large lots being torn down and replaced with one or two much larger homes.

The report call on the council to respond to the growing public concern over the demolitions. It asks the council to support the commission exploring ways to mitigate the impacts on neighborhoods, including:

• A public process that allows for the review and delay of the demolition of any structure older than 75 years until the city's existing inventory of historic buildings in updated.

• Adjusting local zoning codes to reduce the speculative increase in land values that are making such infill projects feasible.

• Incentives to encourage the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of existing buildings instead of demolition as part of the city's sustainability strategy.

• Residential design guidelines that promote the use of high quality designs and building materials when replacing landmarks or structures that contribute to the historic character of the city.

• Updating the current Historic Resource Inventory that was compiled in 1984 throughout the city.

News of the presentation has been posted on local historic preservation websites and blogs. Emails encouraging attendance are being circulated within groups and neighborhood association concerned about the growing number of demolitions, including the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association, which is fighting several infill projects.

The Historic Landmarks Commission is part of the city's Bureau of Development Services. It consists of eight volunteer members who have demonstrated interest, competence, or knowledge of historic preservation.

According to the city's website, the commission "provides leadership and expertise on maintaining and enhancing Portland's historic and architectural heritage. The Commission identifies and protects buildings and other properties that have historic or cultural significance or special architectural merit. The Commission provides advice on historic preservation matters, and coordinates historic preservation programs in the City. The Commission is also actively involved in the development of design guidelines for historic design districts."

To read the report, visit www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=50265&a=498199