Historic Resource Code Revision

By Nancy Tannler

On November 3, City Council listened to six hours of public testimony regarding code amendments purposed by the Historic Resource Code Project (HRCP). 

The intent of the HRCP is to revise regulations for the identification, designation, protection and use of Portland’s historic resources. 

The Project represents hundreds of hours of research, study and negotiations by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC), Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) and the public. 

Brandon Spencer-Hartle, BPS and HRCP manager, gave an overview of why this project is necessary and what it means for the neighborhoods and citizens of Portland. He explained that in 2017, the state mandated zoning code amendments to all designated historic properties. 

These changes will remove some of the protection to large historic residential neighborhoods; preserve the diverse history of underrepresented communities; remove restrictive regulations for minor alterations and upgrades; and reuse and repurpose historic resources.

Carmen Rubio, Commissioner of the BPS, Kristen Minor, Chair of the HLC, and Eli Spivak, PSC, are significant spokespersons for the individual committees. They all reached consensus on the HRCP recommended draft and gave statements confirming their approval.

The following is an abbreviated description of the amendment proposals, roughly divided into five focus areas. 

Beginning with the best practice to inventory significant historic resources; how to simplify the process for designating new local historic and conservation landmarks and districts; third and fourth, how to protect our designated historic resources; and last, administration and other miscellaneous procedures.

Inventory historic resources 

• Re-define the Historic Resource Inventory (HRI) to include the complete roster of documented and designated historic resources. 

• Establish a clear hierarchy of four historic resource tiers. Historic Landmarks and Districts (gold), conservation Landmarks and Districts (silver), National Register Landmarks and districts (bronze) and Significant Resources (unranked).

• Remove zoning code provisions from Unranked Resources to make it easier to add and remove properties from the HRI.

Simplify designation process

•  Establish new criteria that would elevate archaeological, architectural, cultural and historical significance as areas eligible for historic resource designation. This has made it difficult to update the HRI in the past. 

• Modernize criteria and procedures used establishing, amending and removing Historic and Conservation Landmark and Historic and Conservation District status. These changes in status could be done by owner-initiated, quasi-judicial procedures.

Protect designated historic resources–restrictions and benefits

• Expand the demolition review by removing certain accessory structures from demolition review.

• Increase exemptions to historic resource review by exempting certain new construction and alterations (i.e., solar panels on pitched roofs) from historic resource review. 

• Refine historic resource review approval criteria to provide more clarity and flexibility to applicants, city staff and interested community members.

• Clarify when the 120-day demolition delay begins on a property so the public is not confused about the timeline.

Reuse

• Exempt all landmarks and districts from parking requirements. This amendment allows the removal of unused parking pads, reuse of garages for other uses, more intensive use for available land and is in keeping with historic design patterns in a district.

• Allow increased zoning code incentives to certain historic resources to adapt to new and financially-viable uses. Examples are McMenamin’s Kennedy School and the Old Church, a 1882 Historic Landmark.

• Remove the necessity of an historic resource property owner to go through a demolition review in order to adhere to the recent City Council provision known as floor area ration (FAR), a requirement for any infill development. 

Administration/miscellaneous

• Simplify the language and procedures making the historic resource review process more efficient.

• Broaden categories for membership requirements on the seven-member HLC.

The testimony of Heather Flint Chatto, urban planner, environmental designer and co-founder of PDX Main Streets, emphasized the point that preservation and reuse is critical to decarbonizing cities. 

Sustainability should not just be about reconstruction but rather, adaptive reuse of buildings already here. Restore Oregon reiterates this in their statement.

Portland Neighbors Welcome group asked that Council consider four amendment requests. 

1. Include a history of racial covenants as a reason to resize, demote or remove historic or conservation districts. 

2. Historic or Conservation district mandate that Historic Resource Review can only reduce allow a building’s height, FAR or envelope increased in historic or conservation districts. 

3. Change all Historic Resource Type III reviews to Type II staff reviews. 

4. Expand criteria for demolition review to the maximum allowed by the state.

There were a few prominent concerns during testimony from the general public about the HRCP. They included seeing the HLC have equal representation with the BPS and assuring protection from developers for old greenspace properties like Alpenrose Dairy and other historic designated buildings. 

A complete list of public testimony records can be found at portlandmaps.com/bps/testimony/#proposal=historic-resources.

City Council will consider the potential amendments to the Recommended Draft HRCP at a public hearing Wednesday, December 15. Those interested in testifying should register by Tuesday, December 14. The close of this hearing will also be the deadline for any more written testimony. 

City Council will make their decision early in 2022.

Historic Resource Code Revision

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