Residential demolitions continued to increase in Portland in 2016, despite a series of measures approved by the City Council to slow their pace.
According to a report presented to the council last Wednesday, 353 residential demolition permits were processed by the Bureau of Development Services last year through Oct. 31. The total received last year was 390, according to the bureau's website.
That compares to 355 that were received in all of 2015 and 290 that were received in all of 2014.
Changes intended to allow neighbors to save historic homes targeted for demolition have not had much of an effect, either. According to the Bureau of Development Services, which prepared the report, only 12 appeals were successfully submitted since the filing deadline was extended nearly 15 months ago. Only one home was saved that BDS is aware of.
And, according to the testimony at the Jan. 18 council hearing, city, county and state agencies seem confused over which of them are responsible for ensuring that lead-based paint is not scattered when homes are demolished.
"This city is moving too fast and needs to slow down and have a plan to take care of the people who currently live and work here," neighborhood activist Claire Coleman-Evans says of the report's findings. "I've lived here all my life, and I'm proud to be an Oregonian but the vision for the future Portland will not include my family and many others. It will be too expensive to stay and live here."
During the hearing, Commissioner Amanda Fritz predicted demolitions will drop in 2017 because two land-use and zoning plans approved by the council will create more incentives for them in 2018. She referred to the Comprehensive Plan update and Residential Infill Project study, both of which are intended to increase residential densities to accommodate the estimated 240,000 more people expected to live in Portland by 2035.
Issues surrounding the increasing number of residential demolitions and infill projects have been contentious in Portland for several years. Developers say they are responding to market demand for new homes in close-in city neighborhoods. Neighbors say affordable homes are being replaced with more expensive houses that don't fit in.
"Our local research indicates that replacement homes cost 67 percent more than the demolished home," says neighborhood activist Robert McCullough.
Among other things, the council responded by passing the Residential Demolition ordinace that took effect in April 2015. It was drafted with the assistance of the Demolition Review Advisory Committee, a citizen body representing developers, neighborhoods and the public that advises BDS on development issues.
One provision of the ordinance eliminated a previous City Code provision that prevented neighborhood associations from seeking a 120-day demolition delay if the permit was submitted at the same time as a building permit. The report says that 75 percent of all permit applications were subject to this so-called "one-for-one exception" in 2013 and 2014.
That prompted the city's Historic Landmarks Commission to request the council to eliminate the exception, which it did in the ordinance. The council also passed an ordinance requiring homes older than 1916 to be deconstructed by hand instead of mechanically demolished.
Although both ordinances were expected to slow the pace of demolitions, the total number of permit applications increased, anyway. It is unclear from the report whether the number would have been even higher if the ordinances had not passed, however, and how many of the homes were actually demolished.
Despite that, the report says the implementation of the ordinance has gone well. Major accomplishments include standardizing the demolition delay period for nonhistoric one-and-two-family houses, providing opportunities for any interested party to seek a demolition delay to try to save a house, and alerting neighbors when a nearby house will be demolished.
At the same time, the report says that some challenges remain. They include a lack of incentives for property owners to negotiate to save a house and ineffective neighborhood notification requirements.
In addition, almost all of the 12 appeals that were complete enough to be accepted were filed in wealthier neighborhoods. All but one of those filed in moderate-income neigborhoods were rejected as incomplete, in part because they did not show the financial ability to buy the homes.
At the end of the hearing, the council directed BDS to work on drafting new code language to address the lingering problems with the ordinance. Fritz was in charge of BDS when the ordinance was passed by the council, but Mayor Ted Wheeler assigned it to Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in January. Eudaly said she has a number of questions about the report and expects to meet with BDS staff several times as the new code language is developed.
During the hearing, local developer Jeff Fish testified that he and other builders are doing their best to comply with the new requirments. But he said they are frustrated by the lack of agreement over which government agency is in charge of regulating lead-based paint removal during the demolition process. Fish, who is not related to Commissioner Nick Fish and who chaired DRAC when it wrote the ordinance, said he has been in meetings with representatives of five different agencies who all claim the responsibility belongs to someone else.
Commissioner Fish responded by saying the council should work with the 2017 Oregon Legislature to resolve the question, saying it is a public health issue.
You can read the report at file:///Users/jredden/Downloads/41%20(1).pdf.