The 1906 EW Ring House at 2808 SE Belmont was<br />
demolished in February. Photo courtesy Christopher Wilson.

Restore Oregon to Endorse Proposed Demolition Code Revisions

After six months of negotiations between preservationists, builders, neighborhood leaders, and City staff, Restore Oregon is set to endorse a compromise proposal that would greatly strengthen the City of Portland’s demolition code.

UNR ImageAs Portland’s real estate market has boomeranged out of the recession, established neighborhoods have witnessed sharp increases in the number older houses being demolished to make way for new construction. Because state law prevents historic designation against the consent of an owner, many of the houses being demolished lack protection under the City’s preservation ordinance because they have not been officially designated. Furthermore, the existing demolition code is so full of loopholes that most demolition proposals are exempted from any delay or notification requirements.

Key provisions of the proposed compromise proposal include:

  • Definitions of “demolition” and “major alteration”
  • Mandatory 35-day delay and notification period for all major alteration and demolition proposals
  • An additional 60-day delay extension in cases where preservation, relocation, or deconstruction alternatives to demolition are being pursued
  • Ability for any interested party to request the 60-day demolition delay extension
  • Notice of all demolitions be provided to Architectural Heritage Center, Restore Oregon, Neighborhood Associations, and property owners within 150 feet of the site

The Development Review Advisory Committee voted unanimously to forward the proposed code language to City Council for a February 12th hearing. If approved, the new rules would go into effect in late March.

Northwest Portland's 1898 Goldsmith House was slated for demolition in May. A group of preservation-minded buyers saved the building thanks to time afforded during a short demolition delay.

Northwest Portland’s 1898 Goldsmith House was slated for
demolition in May. A group of preservation-minded buyers
saved the building thanks to time afforded during a short
demolition delay.

Restore Oregon staff have devoted countless hours conducting research, attending neighborhood meetings, and collaborating with the Bureau of Development Services to advance emergency code changes to help address the loss of historically significant houses. The organization has advocated for long-term solutions such as deconstruction policies, landfill taxes, historic resource surveys, expanded delay timeframes, and context-appropriate zoning standards, but without immediate short-term revisions to the demolition code we will continue to see quality houses disappear without notification or the ability to find alternatives to demolition.

An initial code proposal was presented to City Council on December 17th, but received vocal opposition by preservationists and United Neighborhoods for Reform. In the weeks since that hearing, Restore Oregon and others have worked to find a compromise that would satisfy the concerns of the building industry while meaningfully advancing demolition regulations.

With an understanding that any code changes will be evaluated in 2016 and that discussions about zoning standards, deconstruction incentives, and landfill policies can and should continue after Council’s February hearing, Restore Oregon is eager to see Council adopt this new demolition code as a first step towards better protecting our city’s viable and historic houses.

A draft of the proposed code showing revisions made since December has been made available by City staff.

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