On November 10, Oregon’s State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments related to a case that could determine the fate of 3,200 designated landmarks across Oregon in communities ranging from Portland to Pendleton, The Dalles to Oregon City. The case marks the first time historic preservation has been considered by Oregon’s highest court. The justices’ decision—not expected until 2016—is expected to be the state’s most far-reaching legal decision for the field of historic preservation.
The case, Lake Oswego Preservation Society v City of Lake Oswego, has been working its way through the court system for the better part of two years. After what has been a virtual tennis match of decisions, the State Supreme Court will have the final say on whether the 1855 Carman House—and thousands like it—will retain their local landmark status and the associated protections that come with designation.
Central to the case is Oregon’s controversial 1995 owner consent law, a statute that allows property owners to refuse local historic designation. Although the original law provided a retroactive opt-out provision for owners who objected to designations imposed before 1995, the legal battle over the fate of the Carman House—a property whose subsequent owners are seeking removal of landmark status in order to demolish the house—has evolved into a threat to thousands of landmark designations across the state.
Restore Oregon has been providing assistance to the Lake Oswego Preservation Society in their campaign to save the 1855 Carman House from demolition since 2013. Following an unfavorable ruling by the Court of Appeals in February, Restore Oregon and the Lake Oswego Preservation Society both petitioned the State Supreme Court to take up a review of the case on the basis of statewide precedent. Although the court rarely agrees to such petitions, in April Chief Justice Thomas Balmer ordered the State Supreme Court to hear the case.
Restore Oregon’s position that the court uphold the 3,200 contested landmark designations has received explicit support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Action, Architectural Heritage Center, PreservationWORKS, and the cities of Portland, Pendleton, and The Dalles. Carrie Richter of Garvey Schubert Barer will argue on behalf of Restore Oregon and supporting parties, with additional arguments provided by the Lake Oswego Preservation Society and Department of Justice.
Arguments will commence at 1:30pm on November 10 at 1163 State Street in Salem. The hearing is open to all, but no public testimony will be invited.