Why A Local Conservation District Won't Stop Demolitions

A glossy four-page flyer from a group opposing Historic District is being distributed in our neighborhood.

That flyer says "No one wants to see homes in Laurelhurst demolished". No disagreement there.

That group says that Laurelhurst should be protected with a special district. That's what we've been saying all along.

However, that group doesn't want Laurelhurst to become a National Register Historic District. They propose instead that our neighborhood become merely a "local conservation district". Here's how they put it:

"We [the anti-historic district group] are proposing a compromise with a Conservation District which would require all contributing homes in Laurelhurst to have demolition review but no design review". (LaurelhurstForward Flyer)

Here's the problem. They've got it completely backwards. In Portland, a local conservation district means NO demolition review but YES to design review. What they propose won't stop demolitions!

Portland already has several local conservation districts, and in those districts, houses are being demolished just like the neighboring areas.

For example, here are images from the city of Portland's official demolition map, with the local conservation districts of Mississippi and Woodlawn outlined. You can see that there are just as many demolitions going on inside conservation districts as outside (the blue and green squares are demolition permits and completed demolitions).

If you read our previous post, A National Register Historic District Stops Demolitions, you know why this is happening. A local conservation district is not protected by demolition review.

That's explained by the city in its Overview of Historic Resource Designations and Protections.

This official overview compares the strong protections in a National Register Historic District with the much lesser protection in a local conservation district. Click on the image to read the full-size version.

Local conservation districts offer only "modest preservation protections" - that's from the city's summary. That means no demolition review, only a 120 day delay of demolitions. But there will be Historic Resource Review, which is design review.

In contrast, in a neighborhood that has been designated by the National Park Service and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the city provides the "highest level of protection". There will be demolition review as well as Historic Resource Review.

This is all explained more fully by the city at its webpage Historic Resource Protections which says:

National Register Properties and Districts

"State rules require the City of Portland to review applications to demolish National Register resources that are individually listed or contributing to a historic district. Demolition Review requires a vote of the City Council before an application to demolish a National Register can be approved. To approve a demolition, the Council must find that an economic hardship exists and/or that the demolition would better meet the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan."

Local Conservation Landmarks and Districts

"Individually listed Conservation Landmarks and contributing properties in Conservation Districts are subject to a 120-day demolition delay period. Alterations to, additions to, and new construction on the site of a Conservation Landmark or within a Conservation District are subject to Historic Resource Review."

What Laurelhurst needs, now and even more with the Residential Infill Project become effective, is the highest level of protection that comes with a National Register of Historic Places listing. Not the weak sauce of a local conservation district, which won't stop demolitions but will require design review.

The same glossy flyer is misguided in other respects as well. To learn more, please see

Historic District Myths And The Actual Facts

A National Register Historic District Does NOT Come With "Federal Rules"

And if you want to read more, please see the LNA's Historic District Committee's report on historic district, which is available at the LNA website here. It is 44 pages long and very detailed.

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