HISTORIC DISTRICT MYTHS AND THE ACTUAL FACTS

Myth: Every National Register Historic District is the same.  "My friend lived in XYZ historic district and hated it".

Fact:  There are 2,300 historic districts in the US.  There is no "Federal rule" for historic districts.  Each state, each city and each district has different rules for a historic district.  Some historic districts (typically on the East Coast) have very "strict" rules.  Other historic districts (like Portland's) have "mild" rules.  Some have no rules (and no protection for historic houses).  Whatever a historic district is like in another state or city, doesn't mean anything in Laurelhurst, Portland, Oregon.

Myth: Historic district means federal government control.

Fact:   All the federal government does is list the neighborhood in the National Register Of Historic Places, like Laurelhurst Park already is.  There are no "federal rules" controlling historic districts.  See "National Register of Historic Places Program: Frequently Asked Questions":

What are the restrictions, rules, regulations for historic property owners? 
From the Federal perspective (the National Register of Historic Places is part of the National Park Service), a property owner can do whatever they want with their property as long as there are no Federal monies attached to the property. You can find this on our website at:
http://www.nps.gov/nr/national_register_fundamentals.htm

All the protections in a Laurelhurst Historic District will come from our own state and local rules.  Historic district will allow us to take back control of our neighborhood from developers and zoning changes.

Myth: Historic district won’t stop demolitions.
Fact: Demolitions of contributing (historic) houses will be stopped, which will protect at least 50-70% of the neighborhood (conservative estimate from
"Report of The Exploratory Historic District Committee", page 36-37).  If commercial streets and newer structures are excluded (e.g. NE Sandy), this is potentially 70-80%.  Demolitions of non-contributing houses will be discouraged, because new construction will have to pass historic review, which most infill developers will avoid. In the historic district of Irvington, only one house has been demolished since 2010.  Meanwhile, outside of historic districts, infill developers have demolished thousands of houses, even beautiful houses, even houses costing $750,000 or more, and even houses in Laurelhurst.  See "Q & A On Demolitions".

 

Myth: Historic district prevents remodeling.
Fact: Remodeling activity is not affected. In the Irvington Historic District, there is now more remodeling activity than there was at the peak of the real estate bubble in 2008.  See "Historic District Doesn't Stop Remodeling."


Myth: Historic district increases taxes.
Fact: There is no “historic district property tax”.  Property taxes in Oregon are based on the property's assessed value, plus any local taxes for bond measures, etc.  Instead, being in a historic district can sometimes lower taxes. Contributing houses in a historic district are eligible for a State property tax freeze to fund rehabilitation. Income-producing houses are eligible for a federal income tax credit to fund rehabilitation.  See "Tax Benefits Of Historic District".

 

Myth: Historic district lowers property values.
Fact:  Values in a historic district are protected and stabilized, because the neighbor- hood’s appearance is protected. Property values in the Irvington and Ladd’s Addition historic districts have risen similar to Laurelhurst values.
Studies in other states have shown that, if historic districts have an effect on property values, it is to raise or support them.  See "The Economic Benefits Of Historic Designation"

Myth: Historic district prevents affordable housing.
Fact:  The most affordable house is one that already exists. Infill developers in Laurelhurst and similar neighborhoods build million-dollar houses, not affordable housing. This infill housing is always less affordable than the original house. Historic district permits ADUs which can provide affordable housing, and internal conversion of houses to duplexes which can also provide affordable housing.  See "
What's The Real Reason For RIP? Part 2. (Hint: Its Not To Produce Affordable Housing.)" and "What Can Duplexes And Triplexes Look Like Under RIP?"

Myth: Historic district hurts renters.  

Fact:  Historic district protects rental houses from demolition by developers to build luxury housing that won't be available to renters.

Myth: Historic district limits repairs, paint color, landscaping, interior work.

Fact: Repairs, maintenance, re-painting, re-siding, re-roofing, landscaping, interior work are not affected by historic district. Historic district only affects permanent exterior alterations to the house, and new construction. Visit Irvington and Ladd’s Addition, in those historic districts the houses are just as well maintained as in Laurelhurst.  See "Living In A Historic District: What Does It Mean To You" (Restore Oregon), "Historic Resource Review Guide" (City of Portland), and "Notes From Restore Oregon Forum 'Living In A Historic District'". Also, under the new state rules, historic review will not start for a year, possibly several years. See "City Confirms: No Historic Review Of Projects In A New Historic District Until Neighborhood Guidelines Developed".

Myth: Historic district is bad for the environment.
Fact:  The greenest house is one that already exists. Our historic houses represent a legacy of natural resources and old growth woods. Demolition wastes more resources than any new house can save. To be green, update a historic house with insulation, new systems, storm windows or new windows. Our houses are not disposable! See "The Environmental Benefits of Historic District".

Myth: Historic district prevents solar energy systems.
Fact:  Solar panels not visible from the street are always allowed. Only solar panels on the street-facing pitch of the roof may be restricted. Other panel locations are possible, e.g. on garage roof. Solar roof shingles and community solar are alternatives.  See "Solar Energy In A Historic District".

Myth: Historic district prevents window repair or replacement.
Fact:  Historic district doesn’t affect repair of original windows or adding storm windows. Replacement windows can be double-pane, but should look similar to the original. Vinyl windows may not be permitted. 

Myth: Historic district means large review fees.
Fact:  Review fees are $250 for smaller projects. For large projects, fees are higher but maximum fee is $5,900 for even the largest project (e.g. remodels over $200,000). This is similar to normal permit fees for large projects. Half of all reviews are at $250 fee (based on Irvington, Ladd’s Addition experience). How often will you do a $250,000 remodel?    See "Report of The Exploratory Historic District Committee" (page 24 at Issue 5: Cost And Time Required For Historic Review).

Myth: Your neighbors will appeal to stop you from remodeling.

Fact:  In theory, but it almost never happens.  In the historic district of Irvington, since 2010, there have been 4 appeals.  3 of those were appeals of denials; there has been only 1 appeal of an approval in almost 8 years.  Whoever appeals has to pay a fee and do considerable work.

Myth: Historic district prevents most remodeling projects that homeowners want to do.

Fact:  Over 97% of historic reviews are approved (based on Irvington, Ladd’s Addition experience). Review ensures exterior alterations are compatible with the existing house and the house’s architectural features are not destroyed. Some “modern/industrial-look” changes won’t be suitable: e.g. corrugated steel siding. Low quality materials may not be suitable: e.g. vinyl siding.  See "Report of The Exploratory Historic District Committee" (page 25-26).

Have you heard other myths about a historic district?  Let us know: historiclaurelhurst@gmail.com.

    © 2017 by Historic Laurelhurst