The City of Portland announced today that new regulations governing the demolition of houses will take effect on April 20. The long-anticipated code change is the result of many months of negotiations and a vote of the City Council back in February.
As the economy has rebounded in the Portland area, smaller, older homes have become targets for replacement by McMansions, skinny houses, and the occasional apartment building. Over the past year, hundreds of neighbors have learned first-hand that the City’s existing code was so full of loopholes that most demolition applications were exempted from any delay or notification requirements whatsoever. In the past two years, well over 500 Portland houses have been demolished, with the average having been built in 1927.
After many contentious public meetings, in January Restore Oregon met with representatives of the Home Builders Association and Development Review Advisory Committee to forge an emergency compromise balancing property rights, historic preservation, and neighborhood livability. Out of that meeting came a code revision proposal that, while not perfect, received support from City staff, United Neighborhoods for Reform, and the Portland City Council.
- Definitions of “demolition” and “major alteration;”
- A mandatory 35-day delay and notification period for all major alteration and demolition proposals;
- For demolition proposals, an additional 60-day delay extension in cases where preservation, relocation, or deconstruction alternatives to demolition are being pursued;
- Notice of all demolitions be provided to Restore Oregon, the Architectural Heritage Center, the Neighborhood Association, and property owners within 150 feet of the site; and,
- Certification regarding remediation of asbestos and lead-based paint prior to permit issuance.
In addition to these code changes, the Mayor’s office is assembling taskforces to examine policies for deconstruction and neighborhood zoning that could further reduce the economic incentive for tearing down small houses and replacing them with incompatible new construction.
“This is a pivotal moment for Portland,” says Restore Oregon executive director Peggy Moretti. “In order to balance the need for greater density with the equally-important need to retain neighborhood character, it’s imperative that City leaders adopt nuanced and creative approaches to zoning standards, design guidelines, and economic carrots and sticks.” At an April 9 neighborhood summit, Restore Oregon asserted, “We have an opportunity to create a better vision for the city.”
We look forward to continued involvement on this issue.