By Jack Rubinger
The church at SE 29th & Harrison has been under-used or unused by the Mormon Church for many years. It was built in the early 1930s and has an expansive property including a lawn accessible on 30th, Harrison and 29th streets.
Most days, neighbors young and old are taking advantage of that lawn for a quick rest, playing catch, enjoying a picnic or just to pause and appreciate its open space and the beautiful old trees adorning it. It is a natural rest spot for bikers and runners on the greenway to and from Mt. Tabor.
On the NE part of the property is the parking lot, a great asset to the community. Many a child has learned to ride a bike or skateboard there and, in recent days, members of the neighborhood have used it to stage drive up, socially-distanced meet ups.
Christian Jurinka, who lives in the neighborhood, recently learned of plans for it to be listed for sale. He noticed a group gathering about its borders and through conversation, learned of the plans.
He said there seems to be a hope on the part of those gentlemen (a real estate agent and church members interested in purchasing) for the building to remain as is.
“The community would be more than happy to have a new church take over ownership, or any other businesses entities dedicated to not changing its external facade and grounds,” said Jurinka.
“The concern of those I’ve spoken with in the community is that the building might be destroyed and replaced with homes and residential infill,” he added.
“We have a deficit of parks and other open areas in the inner SE neighborhood, so this property is treasured by nearby residents. We would welcome an active church community using the space,” said Ellen Mendoza, another neighbor.
According to City officials, the church was listed on the City’s Historic Resources Inventory in 1984. Listing on the Inventory is not a designation and does not come with any protections beyond a 120-day demolition delay if someone wanted to demolish it.
City officials did not have any information on the listing agent and they said they have not heard of any proposals for the church. They didn’t see any applications inquiring about the development potential of that property. The site is zoned R5 which is residential zoning.
New institutional uses may be allowed in residential zones through a Conditional Use, though new owners may be able to demonstrate that the historic church use can continue.
Historic resources such as landmarks may be allowed uses not typically allowed such as office, community services and additional density, but this would require landmarking the building.
Oregon has owner consent laws that limit the public’s ability to protect historic resources over the owner’s objections. The only way to protect the existing building is through a willing owner who wants to landmark it either at the local level (which currently would not protect it from demolition) or through listing on the National Register.
Local preservation nonprofit Restore Oregon holds façade easements on historic buildings which protect buildings from demolition, though they typically require listing in the National Register as a prerequisite for accepting an easement.
Several commercial and residential real brokers contacted were unaware of sales plans for the church.
Irene Caso from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, “From what I understand, the building is not listed for sale at this time, but we are exploring that possibility. I’ll make sure to share more information as it comes available.”
Jurinka believes the church will go up for sale and that there’s a preference to have it purchased by another church, though that has yet to be substantiated.
He believes three other churches have shown interest, based upon his observation of groups touring the place. He’s noticed crews inside the building, giving it a thorough cleaning.
“The neighborhood puts a very high value to this property as a community asset,” said Jurinka. “The neighborhood does not want the property to be redeveloped. The neighborhood very much would like another church to take over ownership.”
To follow-up on additional sales news, contact Irene Caso at firstname.lastname@example.org.