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'Bulldozer home renovation' continues in Eastmoreland


by: DAVID F. ASHTON - As long as a part of one wall is incorporated into a new structure, the home is considered to be renovated - not rebuilt, Portland city codes say. Actually, THE BEE finds, this is not uncommon in codes elsewhere in Oregon as well. For the time being, city codes and statutes – and what some Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association (EMA) leaders call “the glacial pace of governance”—stall the issue of lot-splitting and “drive-through renovation”, which continues to irk area residents.

Of concern at this time is a single-family dwelling at 3815 S.E. Knapp Street – directly across the street from Holy Family Catholic School.

When THE BEE visited the site on October 30, the heavy arm of an excavator was engaged in the remodeling project. Apparently the house had been demolished the previous day; all that remained were portions of the east and west wall.

The supervisor at the site said that they’d done “tests on the materials in the house, to make sure that they were safe and no special remediation was required.” He pointed out skirting around the area to keep debris inside the property line while the partial demolition was taking place.

“Notice that we’re leaving trees in the front; these are fine old trees, there was no reason to take these out,” the supervisor commented.

“We’re not building skinny houses, or an apartment building – we’re replacing an old house with bad wiring and plumbing and some rotted structural members,” the supervisor said, “with the beautiful new house that families will enjoy here for many years to come.”

Hazardous materials

“I, like a lot of people who grew up in Eastmoreland, have a stake in this neighborhood,” said Kimberly Koehler, who sits on both the ENA board and the neighborhood Land Use Committee. “My parents came here in 1958.”

Many of her neighbors, Koehler said, “And certainly the majority of the people who sit on the Board of Directors, are not against development; we are against ‘schlock’ development.”

On the day that most of the S.E. Knapp Street house was deconstructed, “it was windy, and material was thrown up in the air,” Koehler reported. “There’s a daycare center just to the east, and the Holy Family School [to the south]. We don’t think this met ‘best practices’ for taking the major portion of the house down.”

Her concern, Koehler said, is that older homes like this one – Multnomah County records show it was built in 1938 – generally contain building materials now deemed hazardous: Namely, lead from paint, and asbestos.

Neighbors hope, Koehler added, that the general contractor did, indeed, test for hazardous materials before tearing the house apart. But, based on the contractor’s previous project, she said, she is skeptical.

“Between Christmas and New Year’s day last year, the same developer – DiLusso Homes LLC – tore down the house at 3725 S.E. Ogden Street,” said Koehler as she held up an OSHA complaint summary.

She pointed to the section in the inspector’s report stating that a laboratory evaluation of materials from the cleared site contained “less than LOQ of 1% asbestos … house siding samples were taken and analyzed for lead … there was 2.1% and 0.8% lead.”

Further down the page, the OSHA inspector wrote that the general contractor, Vladislav Rudnitsky, said at their conference, “That he did not know that he had to do a survey for asbestos, or lead” – even though renovating houses is part of this stated business.

It appears from the paperwork as if DiLusso Homes LLC was indeed cited for an OSHA violation, but was not financially penalized.

45-day “waiting period”

Neighborhood leaders, including Koehler, say that a 45-day “waiting period” before house demolitions and extensive remodels begin – along with neighborhood association notification – would give people the opportunity to make sure necessary safety inspections have been done.

“As long as developers are allowed to demolish older homes, virtually overnight, with no notification to the neighborhood, such abuses will continue,” Koehler said. “These two substances are just too dangerous to have in our air.”

ENA President Robert McCullough told THE BEE that he and other Board Members recently spoke with Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz about instituting such a delay-and-notification policy.

“Commissioner Fritz expressed a concern that projects taking place in ‘less favored’ neighborhoods may not want additional notification.

“Her comment was a show-stopper,” McCullough said. “Any family, in any neighborhood, should be notified if a potentially hazardous activity will be taking place next door – instead of finding out about it ‘after the fact’.”

McCullough also took issue with Portland’s code and statutes which define a renovation. “I would like to recommend that it is not a renovation, if a bulldozer can drive through the center of the house, even though a wall or two are left standing that will be incorporated into the new structure.”

The opportunity to “do wrong” is the city’s fault, not that of the contractor or developer, McCullough said. “This statute needs to be fixed.”