Historic Resources Code Improvement Project makes it easier, cheaper to make minor modifications to Portland’s historic resources

PORTLAND, Ore. — This morning Portland’s City Council unanimously voted to adopt code amendments that will improve the City’s historic review process and create a quicker, easier-to-understand, and more predictable review process for minor home improvement projects in historic and conservation districts.
In Portland’s nationally recognized historic districts most exterior work on buildings, as well as all new construction, is subject to design review. Both property owners and historic preservation advocates have complained that the process is long, costly and burdensome, and may hurt the cause of historic preservation that the review is intended to ensure. City Council last summer commissioned the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) to convene the Historic Resources Code Improvement project to address these issues.
The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability developed the new code in collaboration with the Bureau of Development Services (BDS), which will enforce the new regulations. They spent eight months working with residents of historic and conservation districts, members of the historic preservation community and contractors who work on historic homes.
“I would like to thank Commissioner Saltzman for his leadership on this important project,” acknowledged Mayor Charlie Hales at the public hearing for the project. “This is a great example of two bureaus working together to address community concerns. The whole process has been thoughtful, collaborative and swift.”
The HRCI project shows how the City can make relatively small fixes to the Zoning Code in a timely manner to address evolving issues in the community. “The project team went in and — with ‘surgical precision’ — made the necessary fixes to the City’s regulations around historic resources,” said Paul Falsetto, chair of the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources (PCHR) , a group that represents Portland’s historic and conservation districts and preservation professions from across the city.
Following the listing of the Irvington Historic District in 2010, the Historic Landmarks Commission (HCL) became aware that residents in the newly designated district were finding the regulations for historic review cumbersome and cost prohibitive. Both the HLC and PCHR expressed their support for the code amendments.
Carrie Richter, HLC chair, noted that the project “… represents the most feasible way to quickly address stakeholder concerns with respect to historic design review. This project could not address all code concerns and shortcomings. But with an eight-month process and no real budget, we understand that the HRCI project cannot serve as a complete overhaul of the code.”
Background
Homeowners in historic and conservation districts were concerned about historic review fees that start at $900 and a review process that can take six to eight weeks. In some cases, the fee was more than the project itself. As a result, some improvements have been made without review or homeowners have forgone improvements altogether.
Last summer, City staff began working with the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC), HLC and PCHR to identify issues, conduct research and draft options to create the code amendments.
“The PSC heard a broad range of issues from stakeholders about the project, and the code amendments represent good problem-solving on everyone’s part,” PSC Commissioner Don Hanson remarked.
Stated BPS Director Susan Anderson, “This package of amendments will make it much easier and cheaper for homeowners to make small improvements to their homes.”
Next Steps
Along with the recommended code amendments, the PSC requested funding the creation of a user-friendly handout to make historic regulations understandable to the general public, clearly stating when fees will be reduced and by how much (BDS will return before May 1 with a revised fee schedule), and staff returning to the PSC in one year with an evaluation of how successful the code amendments are in achieving the project goals.
The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is committed to providing equal access to information and hearings. If you need special accommodation, please call 503-823-7700, the City’s TTY at 503-823-6868, or the Oregon relay Service at 1-800-735-2900.
About the Historic Resources Code Improvement Project 
In an 8-month public process, this project will propose amendments to the Zoning Code to streamline the process for property owners to make minor home improvements in the City’s historic and conservation districts. For more information, please visit the project website atwww.portlandoregon.gov/bps/58976. If you would like to receive monthly project updates, please visit the website and click on the “stay informed” button.
About the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS)
Through partnerships and collaboration, BPS provides: Citywide strategic and comprehensive land use planning; neighborhood, district, economic, historic and environmental research, planning and urban design; policy and services to advance energy efficiency, green building, waste reduction, composting and recycling, solar and renewable energy use, and local sustainable food production; as well as actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For more information, visit www.portlandoregon.gov/bps.
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