Pro vs Con – Preservation Gets Ugly

By Midge Pierce

With more than 1100 signatures in support of nominating Laurelhurst for National Historic Designation, residents are undeterred by a poll indicating a slight majority in nearby Eastmoreland do not approve preserving their enclave as a NHD.

Because the poll failed to show a clear yes or no, Laurelhurst proponents continue to prepare their nomination as the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association allows its application to proceed toward decision-making in DC.

HD advocates believe national designation is the best way to protect against home demolitions that have tripled in five years. Dissenters say preservation takes property needed for growth out of the densification pool.

Stiffening positions are getting ugly with HD proponents citing personal threats “legal and otherwise” and opponents claiming slander from false allegations. Conflicts of interest are lobbed from both sides.

Reacting to Eastmoreland’s poll, Laurelhurst resident Keith Comess claims that “devious, underhanded skullduggery” led to false results.

Derek Blum, co-founder of a group called Historic Eastmoreland Achieving Results Together (HEART) called the poll results inconclusive and misleading thanks to postcards sent by Keep Eastmoreland Free.

With more demolition and Infill coming, he said, “Neighbors learn about new opportunities to craft neighborhood-specific preservation guidelines. They’ll realize HD is in their best interest. The impacts we can expect from the Residential Infill Project along with continuing rate of demolitions are critical factors.”

A member of an opposition group called Portland Forward, counters that the process is unfair because proponents dominate the neighborhood associations.

Attorney Victor Roehm of Laurelhurst says, “I am concerned about those on fixed incomes and younger families who will be unable to afford projects like adding a second story to their houses.”

He disputes charges of influence by clients who are developers in North Portland. “I am not being paid by anyone on this. What really needs to be checked out is the conflict of interests from groups shoving historic districts on citizens.”

He dismisses what he calls assertions that “HD Light” rules will be flexible. “A year from now the guidelines could be worse. He claims Laurelhurst would be served better and quicker with a Conservation District or local HD.

A Laurelhurst exploratory group prepared a comprehensive analysis of a future without preservation. Among findings is that demolitions replacing single family homes with multiplexes are likely to increase growth more than 300% as neighborhoods are re-zoned for density by the Residential Infill Project (RIP).

The report says the city’s count of residential demolition permits understates actual numbers because it considers a house demolished only if the entire structure is removed. No demolition permits have been required for partially razed houses.

Meanwhile, groups like 1000 Friends actively recruit Portland’s growing stuck-in-rental generation to support densification everywhere through RIP. Their position is that HDs stymie densification needed in SE neighborhoods close-in to jobs and transit.

In response Madeline Kovacs, coordinator of Portland for Everyone Program Coordinator at 1000 Friends of Oregon said, “Historic architecture and neighborhoods are valuable and worth making efforts to preserve, but true historic protection suffers when it’s twisted into a weapon against diverse neighborhoods.

“In Eastmoreland, the national historic district designation process is being misused in an attempt to prevent modest forms of housing – duplexes, triplexes, and cottages – from being integrated into the fabric of the neighborhood.

Portland’s family sizes and demographics are changing – we are seeing more 1 and 2 person households than ever before – so this effectively shuts many families out of neighborhoods like Eastmoreland.”

At a recent town hall meeting, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly slammed preservationists saying growth is going to happen and they need to change.

Pro vs Con – Preservation Gets Ugly

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