A group of neighborhood residents recently saved Northwest Portland’s Goldsmith House from demolition. ( James Reddick/The Oregonian)
According to The Architectural Heritage Center, an estimated 389 demolitions took place in 2013 in neighborhoods across the city; it’s rumored that a demo per work day is happening in 2014. They have some ideas as places to start responding to the demolition epidemic:
(1) Require advance notice to surrounding property owners and residents. Right now, notice is only required by the city when more than one new house is proposed. There’s no notice/delay when a demo application and the replacement house permit are filed the same day. The city should require notice, and time for response, across the board.
(2) Change the definition of “demolition” in the city’s development code – a big problem is that any demolition that leaves any portion of a house still standing (such as a partial foundation wall) is called an “alteration” or “remodel,” not a demolition (which are seriously under-counted, as a result.) More typically, many other jurisdictions use “at least 50% of a structure remains standing” as the primary criterion for an alteration/remodel. If that’s reasonable enough for other cities and counties, it should be acceptable for Portland.
(3) Houses that are obviously historic (but unprotected) are those that have long been listed on the city’s 1983 Historic Resources Inventory, but many houses have reached the age of 50-plus since then. We propose a mandatory 120 day delay for houses on the HRI or at least 50-plus years old. These are likely the ones that need time for investigating alternatives to demolition.
(4) Require that existing front and side yard setbacks be maintained for the new house(s). One major concern is that after a demolition, a new house is not only usually bigger, but it covers much more of the lot, often changing the streetscape substantially. If the front- and side-yard setbacks stay the same for the new house, the streetscape remains more like its traditional neighbors.