After years of pressure applied by Restore Oregon and others, the City of Portland today closed a loophole that affects over 2,700 significant properties on the City’s Historic Resources Inventory (HRI). As a response to preservationists’ recent State Supreme Court victory, the City’s Service Level Update will stop ranked properties on the HRI from being removed and simultaneously granted demolition permits. They must instead be subject to the 120-day demolition delay period mandated by state law. This sudden change in policy amounts to perhaps the single largest victory for historic places to come out of city hall in over a decade.
“Advocating for this change is just one of several steps Restore Oregon has taken to stem the demolition epidemic. Give monthly to make a lasting difference.”
The HRI was adopted by the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission in 1984 as a list of historic resources to be considered for Landmark designation. Properties on the Inventory were categorized by a ranking of I, II, III, and unranked, with Rank I being the most significant. Following the passage of Oregon’s restrictive owner consent law (ORS 179.772) in 1995, the City began requiring a 120-day demolition delay for the removal of ranked properties from the Inventory. The owner consent law, allows owners to refuse designation at any point during the designation process, but that refusal requires a 120-day demolition delay period. If the HRI is a step in the designation process then the City has been violating state law by not recognizing it as such. The demolition loophole dates back to 2002, when the City of Portland took the position that the HRI was not a historic designation and therefore not subject to delay. Restore Oregon has been applying pressure for the City to close this loophole since 2013, even threatening to take the City to court over the removal of the Workmen Temple from the HRI.
Although the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability released draft zoning code amendments on August 28 which would close the loophole eventually, those proposed changes wouldn’t go into effect until March 2017. Subsequent evaluation by the City, including the offices of Commissioner Saltzman and Mayor Hales, identified the possibility of unintended consequences resulting from this delay in implementation. The City and the preservation community became concerned that this delay would allow for many owners to remove their properties from the HRI in the intervening 6 months. With the current rash of demolitions plaguing Portland, that could mean scores of older homes would be lost. Today’s policy shift closes this loophole while allowing the code changes to go through the required public process.
A special thanks is owed to our legal counsel, Carrie Richter, for her assistance representing Restore Oregon at the State Supreme Court and her ongoing assistance in advancing protections for HRI properties. Thanks are also owed to Commissioner Saltzman and Mayor Hales, whose bureaus collaborated on the Service Level Update.