A National Register Historic District Stops Demolitions
May 27, 2017
One of the biggest concerns that Laurelhurst residents have is demolitions.
There has been recently some misinformation spread about whether a historic district will prevent demolition. Certain groups are claiming that a National Register Historic District will not prevent demolitions.
Below is a summary of the facts, prepared by the city of Portland. Click on the image to download the document (it'll be easier to read).
A historic house is protected by demolition review if it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or as part of a National Register Historic District.
Portland offers lower levels of protection, to "local historic districts" and "local conservation districts". There, historic houses are not protected by demolition review. At best, there may be a 120 day "demolition delay". This delay has proved ineffective in stopping developers from demolishing historic buildings. They just wait 4 months and then call in the bulldozers.
If Laurelhurst becomes listed in the National Register of Historic Places, then under current law the following demolition protections will apply:
1. A historic house (also called "contributing" house) will be protected by demolition review. The developer will have to go through a land use hearing process to show why the house should be demolished, and the city council has to approve the demolition. That will be a very rare event.
2. A non-historic house (also called "non-contributing") will not be protected by demolition review. Some of Laurelhurst's houses - about 20 to 30 percent - are non-historic because their historic features have already been removed or they are more recent construction. Those houses can be demolished, but the new house or duplex will have to be visually compatible with Laurelhurst's historic character. This keeps away the worst of the demolish-and-replace infill developers, because they know what they build won't be permitted.
To see how this works in practice, see the city's demolition map for Ladd's Addition, a National Register Historic District. Developers have been demolishing houses all around Ladd's Addition (blue and green squares show completed demolitions and demolition permits), but no house in the Ladd's Addition historic district has been demolished (data goes back a decade).
Also see Irvington where no historic house has been demolished since 2010 when Irvington received historic protection, and there has been only one non-historic house demolished since then. Houses are being demolished all around Irvington, but not in the National Register Historic District.
Without the protection of a historic district . . . well, see the demolition map for Beaumont-Wilshire (below left) and Sellwood (below right).
Which future do we want for Laurelhurst? The decision is now.