PORTLAND TRIBUNE: ADAM WICKHAM - Barbara Bushell stands in front of her home on Southeast Peacock Lane. She's spearheading efforts to get the lane, known for its annual Christmas light display and for its cluster of English Tudor-style homes, established as a historic district.The effects of Portland’s push to boost density — lot splitting, demolitions and build-ups of multi-dwelling units — have some neighborhoods seeking refuge in regulation offered by historic district distinction.

A few areas — mainly on Portland’s east side — are taking the first steps to receive historic district status and associated listing on the National Register of Historic Places, in an effort to minimize demolitions and “out-of-character” infill development.

Efforts in Eastmoreland are underway as well as on Southeast Portland’s Peacock Lane. The Laurelhurst neighborhood is also looking at the idea. Buckman tried in 2013, but failed when a majority of homeowners objected. Irvington was the last residential area to establish historic district status in 2010.

The Residential Infill Project was created by Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staff in order to accommodate an estimated 123,000 new households by 2035. The plan says 99,000 of the city’s 155,000 single-family lots would be rezoned for multi-family housing.

Both the city and state say they have seen a rise in inquiries in neighborhoods becoming historic districts, but it’s not to be taken lightly.

“It’s a high bar in terms of historic significance and in terms of local regulations,” says Brandon Spencer-Hartle, city planner with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

Peacock Lane

Barbara Bushell is proud of the particular street her house sits on: Southeast Peacock Lane in Portland’s Sunnyside neighborhood, known for its annual Christmas light display.

“Everybody in Portland, unless you’ve lived under a rock, knows about Peacock Lane,” she told the Tribune. That’s her mantra as she spearheads the effort to get the 33-home lane established as a historic district. Establishment on the National Register of Historic Places is the neighbors’ response to new development on the lane by Vic Remmers, of Everett Custom homes, an infill developer and subsequent news media frequenter in the past few years, as his plans consistently provoke Portlanders.

The lane will see its first new home in 86 years, thanks to Remmers, who intends to construct a new single-family two-story house next to the house at 522 S.E. Peacock Lane, which he purchased in April.

Homes on the lane were constructed between 1924 and 1930, the period when developer R.F. Wassell planted his vision of a cluster of homes all in a similar English Tudor architectural style.

Bushell is working with consultants and the Architectural Heritage Center/Bosco-Milligan Foundation to collect data needed to prove historic significance. It’s a costly effort for which they’re raising funds. So far, $3,225 of a $15,000 goal has been raised on a campaign.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: ADAM WICKHAM - Neighbors feared Southeast Peacock Lane would lose its collective character when developer Vic Remmers of Everett Custom Homes bought an empty lot back in April. He doesn't plan to build until after the holidays so not to interfere with the Christmas light display.Peacock character

Once neighbors realized they had no legal standing to prevent Everett Custom Homes from building on Peacock Lane, efforts began to become a historic district to prevent future developments from being built out of character.

Historic district designation poses restrictions on design of new homes, and alterations on homes in a historic district are reviewed first by the city. Remmers says he plans to stay with the character of the neighborhood.

“The final home will be built in a style similar to the English cottages currently on Peacock Lane,” he said in an email, adding that after concerns arose, he and his architects went back to the drawing board to adjust design. Despite highly publicized pushback from neighbors, Remmers stands by the way his business operates. He says Everett Custom Homes focuses on the needs of modern families — and that many older homes in Portland don’t meet those needs.

“While we don’t source windowpanes from the 1920s for our homes, these also don’t meet today’s environmental standards and the needs of families today,” he says. He adds that many old houses aren’t earthquake proof and are asbestos ridden. “As the city changes, so do the homes,” he says.

Long road to designation

At this point, Peacock Lane has only completed the reconnaissance survey — a preliminary survey needed by the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, which uses it to weed out noncontenders for the prestigious listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jason Allen, a historic preservation specialist in charge of the surveys, says the initial survey of Peacock Lane homes was completed and that there’s “substantial reason” and “enough to go on to do more research and look more closely to proceed with a National Register investigation.”

Of the 33 homes, five are noncontributing due to alterations — including, incidentally, Bushell’s home.

“I’m all for preserving the architectural integrity,” she says. “If I had the money, I’d rip the God-awful vinyl off this house.”

So far, the office has asked for what Bushell says is “greater definition” and “more detail about the history of the lighting, and proving that it’s not just a local phenomenon.”

But first, a majority of the neighborhood must indeed want to go along with historic district establishment. Not everyone is interested in the homeowner restrictions imposed by the designation; disputes continue between homeowners in Eastmoreland as it pushes for historic district distinction, while some homeowners in the Irvington Historic District have attempted with little success to get themselves off of it.

There is no “official” voting process in a neighborhood’s decision to move forward with the designation process despite needing a majority. The process is left to the neighborhood to resolve it among themselves, according to Allen.

Bushell is in the process of polling homeowners on Peacock Lane — she says so far, most have vocalized support, although some have remained silent on the issue. Silence equals support in process.

Theoretically, if majority support is gained and all ducks are in a row, Allen says Peacock Lane could see designation — ultimately handed down by the National Parks Service — by next August.

“Honestly it’s a personal desire to save the whole tradition of the lane,” Bushell says. “Even if we didn’t do the Christmas thing. To have a modern box, taller than any house, sitting (more) forward than any house — it just screws up the whole lane.”

She also believes that the designation would give the lane a more impactful voice in other matters.

“If the city wanted to widen Stark or Belmont — or change them to be one way only — when we’re on the National Register, we have a voice,” she says. “The neighbors are protesting like crazy, but it doesn’t make any difference.”

Though the application permit has been approved for Everett Custom Homes’ new development on the lane, Remmers says construction won’t be completed until after the holidays, so it doesn’t interfere with the Peacock Lane Christmas light display.

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