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Lot-splitting outrages Eastmoreland neighbors

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - A restored and well-maintained home, completed on April 25, 1949, at 6810 S.E. 31st Avenue in Eastmoreland, was leveled in hours by this powerful excavator. As you see - theres not much left here.More and more real estate “For Sale” signs are popping up in Eastmoreland this spring. And, neighbors say there’s a growing concern that developers will snap up these properties – and then split the lots, to build two homes where once stood.

On May 24, Donna Giguere contacted THE BEE about a “beautiful mid-century home” at 6810 S.E. 31st Avenue that was being demolished on Memorial Day weekend. “Could this large double lot be split for two houses?” Giguere asked.

Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association (ENA) Board Member Kimberly Koehler also contacted THE BEE the same day, after walking past the site of the once-stately home, already reduced to rubble by an excavator. “The neighbors are outraged that a beautifully-landscaped home that sold for $640.000 was just flattened as though a tornado hit it. And now the lot will be split.”

Koehler’s research showed that Metro Homes NW, West Coast Development, and Group, Inc., had obtained a City of Portland demolition permit, #13-157-873. “The permit cost the applicants $589.76,” Koehler wrote that evening.

“Due to a loophole in city code, if a developer takes out a building permit at the same time he buys a demolition permit, all rules about notifying neighbors and the neighborhood association are waived. The lot-splitting issue is what has neighbors riled up the most,” stated Koehler.

In public records, the 10,000 sq. ft. property looks like a single lot. But it is listed as “Lot 8 and 9 of block 19 of Eastmoreland”.

It didn’t take long for artistically-designed lawn signs reading “Stop the Demolition! NO Lot-Splitting!” to pop up around Eastmoreland.

The Chair of the ENA Land Use Committee, Rod Merrick of Merrick Architecture Planning, spoke with THE BEE regarding findings he’d sent to neighborhood leaders and interested residents.

 

The basis for the “very unfortunate demolition” of the house, Merrick said, is that its lot was:

· Of sufficient size;

· Contained two underlying tax lots;

· Had existing sewer and water connections; and,

· Had sufficient potential value that the developers believe that they could make a substantial profit building two houses on these two lots.

Designating Eastmoreland as an “Historical District” is problematic for the neighborhood, Merrick commented, due to the time, cost, and the high level of buy-in for it required from neighbors.

“Another option for discouraging speculative demolition is for neighbors to protect their own properties and educate sellers to include provisions of sale that will protect their properties for future generations,” Merrick wrote in his findings.

“For this, we will need to develop a menu of measures that will inexpensively become part of the conditions of sale. Such codes, covenants, and restrictions, are common in new developments where first-buyers are obliged to agree to terms.”

Had the owner of the demolished house on S.E. 31st Avenue had specified, as a “condition of sale”, that the house could not be torn down, or the lot be split for, say, 25 years, most developers would not offer to buy it for cash, above the asking price, Merrick explained.

“We’re working on language that would, essentially, be a covenant on the property that would keep it from being subdivided,” Merrick said. “Not so much to prevent the house from being torn down – but to have property maintained intact; to prevent wholesale change in the neighborhood.”

But, he added, conditions of sale that impose restrictions on property sales can’t be applied neighborhood-wide – each property owner must voluntarily buy into the concept – and file the necessary restrictions with Multnomah County records.

ENA President Robert McCullough later commented, “The city now has many loopholes. The one causing the ‘most pain’ here is the lack of notice.

“A developer can apply for a building permit for a single house when they apply for a demolition permit. But, the city allows them also to apply for a demolition permit when it is being replaced with two houses – without giving notice,” McCullough said.

“The purpose of zoning is to protect citizens’ investments, by protecting the nature of neighborhoods. The idea of having land use laws that actually apply – not ones filled with loopholes – would be good.

“Bottom line is, I’d like to see the City Council move Land Use back in favor of homeowners,” McCullough concluded.