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New Rules For Historic Districts: No Historic Review Of Projects Until Neighborhood-Specific Guideli

This is breaking news of an important change in Oregon's historic protection rules.

On January 27, the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) adopted new rules on protections for a National Register-listed historic district. The new rules will become effective in about 90 days.

This will result in an important change in how the city of Portland protects newly-created National Register historic districts.

Historic resource review will not automatically apply to these new historic districts. Instead, the city must conduct a public hearing process to determine what additional protections, beyond demolition protections, will apply to the new historic district. Since historic review is an "additional protection", construction in the new historic district will not be subject to historic review until the city has developed guidelines for the district.

Here is the new rule. See subpart (c):

OAR 660-0230-0200 (8) as amended

National Register Resources are significant historic resources. For these resources . . . a local government:

(a) Must protect National Register Resources, regardless of whether the resources are designated in the local plan or land use regulations, by review of demolition or relocation that includes, at minimum, a public hearing process that results in approval, approval with conditions, or denial and considers the following factors: condition, historic integrity, age, historic significance, value to the community, economic consequences, design or construction rarity, and consistency with the acknowledged comprehensive plan. Local jurisdictions may exclude accessory structures and non-contributing resources within a National Register nomination;

(b) Must amend its land use regulations to protect National Register Resources in conformity with subsection (a). Until such regulations are adopted, subsection (a) shall apply directly to National Register Resources; and

(c) May apply additional protection measures. For a National Register Resource listed after the effective date of this rule, additional protection measures may be applied only upon considering, at a public hearing, the historic characteristics identified in the National Register nomination; the historic significance of the resource; the relationship to the historic context statement and historic preservation plan contained in the comprehensive plan, if they exist; the goals and policies in the comprehensive plan; and the effects of the additional protection measures on the ability of property owners to maintain and modify features of their property.

Immediately upon creation of the new historic district, demolition protection will be applied to contributing houses. That is current city practice and the new rule requires that it continue, see subpart (a) above.

What does this mean for Laurelhurst? Suppose our neighborhood becomes a National Register-listed historic district in 2018. As soon as that happens, developers will no longer be able to demolish contributing houses (that basically means houses that have been identified as being in sufficiently original condition that they "contribute" to the historic character of the neighborhood.). But there will be no review of, and thus no restrictions on, remodeling or construction until the city, working with the neighborhood, has developed and adopted neighborhood-specific design guidelines for Laurelhurst. That process is likely to take 1 to 3 years, depending partly on availability of city budget/staff and on how hard the neighborhood pushes for action.

Is this bad or good for Laurelhurst? A little bit bad, but mostly good, we'd say.

The "bad" part is that, for the first few years of the historic district, a developer will be able to tear down a non-contributing house and build pretty much whatever they want. That situation will continue until Laurelhurst has its own design guidelines approved by the city.

Also, for the first years of the historic district, homeowners will be able remodel their houses without any historic review application or fee or review process. As long as the remodeling isn't actually a demolition, that is. You decide if that is "bad" or "good"; we think it does mean a gradual transition into being a historic district.

The "good" part is that when Laurelhurst does get design guidelines, they will have been developed specifically for our neighborhood. The city will have conducted public outreach and public hearings, and our neighborhood will have had a role. We will have the opportunity to help shape clear and reasonable guidelines that are suitable for our neighborhood.

Remember that everything we've just discussed applies only to significant and permanent alternations to the exterior of a house. That is the only sort of remodeling that gets reviewed in a historic district. Any sort of interior work, new kitchens, new bathrooms, upgrading plumbing or electrical, seismic upgrades, repairs, maintenance, painting, landscaping, etc are not subject to historic review anyway.

You can find the new rules at the DLCD's website, here. When the city's Historic Program website is updated with information, we'll add a link here.

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