Deconstruction (Photo courtesy City of Portland).

Momentum Building to Reduce Demolition Waste

Deconstruction of framing (Photo courtesy City of Portland).

Deconstruction of framing (Photo courtesy City of Portland).

With outcry intensifying over the stream of waste being generated by demolitions in Portland, the Mayor’s office and City bureaus have been working to develop regulatory responses intended to address some issues of concern. Two initiatives have recently been announced: one designed to incentivize higher rates of reuse of materials from buildings slated for demolition, and the other seemingly intended to serve as a blunt deterrent to developers considering demolishing viable existing housing stock.

In September, the City announced the availability of grant funds for developers who choose deconstruction for homes slated to be razed in single dwelling zones. Deconstruction allows for meaningful rates of salvage and reuse of building materials, diverting waste from the landfill and allowing quality architectural components to continue to serve a purpose. Currently, only two percent of Portland’s residential demolition waste is salvaged for reuse.

The grant program was developed with the assistance of the Deconstruction Advisory Group (DAG), convened in April 2015 to advise the City on the development of incentives and methods to increase deconstruction as an alternative to mechanical demolition. Maximum grant awards are $2,500 for full deconstruction and $500 for partial projects, with a total allocation of $50,000 for the first round of funding.

Restore Oregon serves on the DAG to advocate for a balanced approach to deconstruction that is respectful of historic resources.

According to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, “Our goal is to preserve neighborhood character and affordability by discouraging demolitions. But when buildings must come down, that work should still serve the public good. Taking apart buildings in a way that allows for salvaging valuable materials for reuse benefits our community, economy, and environment.”

Deconstruction (Photo courtesy City of Portland).

Deconstruction (Photo courtesy City of Portland).

Since early 2014, Restore Oregon has advocated for meaningful deterrents to demolition such as a landfill tax. In late September, Mayor Hales unveiled a proposed $25,000 “demolition tax,” with the goal of discouraging residential demolitions while also generating a new revenue stream for affordable housing programs. In addition to the $25,000 flat tax, developers would be required to pay $25 for every year the house stood (for example, tearing down a 100-year old house would add $2,500 to the fee).

The City’s response to the spate of demolitions is not unlike that of Vancouver, BC, which took strong steps in 2014 to curb demolitions, with particular concern for its older housing stock. Under Vancouver’s Green Demolition Bylaw, a $15,000 deposit is required when a demolition permit is applied for on a pre-1940 residential building or any structure deemed a “character” building by the city’s Director of Planning. The deposit is refunded only if reuse and recycling requirements are met—a combined 90% of all building materials, by weight, recycled or reused (excluding hazardous materials).

Several US cities, including Seattle, San Francisco, and Boulder, currently have regulations in place that require or incentivize deconstruction over mechanical demolition.

While Mayor Hales’ current tax concept does not explicitly include a provision that would offer a fee reduction for choosing deconstruction over traditional demolition, there will be opportunities for public dialogue to refine the proposal. Portland City Council will hear the proposal on October 14.

Visit our Neighborhood Preservation page for more information on demolitions in Portland.

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