Author Archives: Robert McCullough

Hales: Demo rule changes on tap

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City vows to tackle ‘demolition epidemic’ threatening livability

Mayor Charlie Hales is convinced the city needs to act quickly to prevent more historic homes from being demolished and replaced with infill developments.

“The existing system is not working. When historic homes are replaced by one or two new ones, you lose the character of neighborhoods,” Hales says.

According to Hales, staff members in his office have already begun meeting to discuss policy options. He expects to announce one or more proposals soon.

“It will be a matter of weeks, not months,” Hales says.

Hales says he became convinced of the problem during the July 31 City Council meeting that turned into a lively forum on demolition and other growth-related issues. It was originally scheduled so the council could receive annual reports from two commissions that advise on related matters, the Portland Landmarks Commission and the Portland Design Commission.

But preservationists and neighborhood activists alarmed by the increasing number of residential demolitions took the opportunity to present their concerns to the council. And both commission’s supported their testimony, with local architect Brian Emerick, chairman of the landmarks commission, declaring Portland’s livability is threatened by a “demolition epidemic.”

Hales praised those who testified for presenting a compelling case that existing city policies intended to preserve historic properties are not working, especially now that the economy is improving and many people want to live in close-in Portland neighborhoods that contain a large number of older homes that can be replaced.

“It was an excellent hearing. The people who testified made a very reasonable case that something should be done to save historic home and the answer is yes,” says Hales.

Still, there are a number of challenges for Hales.

For starters, a law passed by the 1995 Legislature during the height of the property rights movement prevents the city telling homeowners they cannot demolish their houses or sell them to developers. The “owner consent” law says property owners must agree to any kind of historic designation.

And not all of the homes being demolished are historic. Many of those who testified were upset about relatively newer houses being torn down and replaced with one or more that are simply not compatible with the surrounding ones.

In addition, an advisory committee is already working on the issue, although it may not complete its work until the end of the year. The Development Review Advisory Committee of the Bureau of Development Services has been discussing how to give neighbors better notice of pending demolitions for months. It is also discussing when a major remodeling job is large enough to require a demolition permit.

Jeff Fish, a local developer, leads the Development Review Advisory Committee. He admits work on the issues has been slowed by summer vacations, but still plans to complete the work by the end of the year, when his term expires.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz is in charge of BDS and she supported the committee’s work during the council meeting. Hales spokesman Dana Haynes says the work will be coordinated.

Infill evolution

Everyone at the council meeting agreed residential demolitions are increasing although some questioned whether it was a crisis. The Bureau of Development Services issued around 275 demolition permits last year. It is on track to issue more than 300 this year, not counting major remodeling projects that only leave part of the original house without being a demolition.

Emerick warned that the paced of demolitions could increase dramatically in coming years, however. He said that a full 20 percent of existing houses are on lots that can be legally divided for more homes, putting them at increasing risk for redevelopment as the economy continues to improve.

Most of those who testified called the current rate of demolitions an epidemic that is destroying the character Portland neighborhoods. Developer Jeff Fish noted they were a very small percent of the cities existing 150,000-plus homes. He has also said that most of those homes are not worth saving forever, noting that many were not built to last in the first place. He considers most of the infill projects part of the evolution of all cities, which are constantly changing in response to market forces.

Nevertheless, Fish says the city should identify those considered historic and find some way to allow preservationists instead of developers to purchase them when they come up for sale.

There were no shortage of other ideas for slowing the pace of demolitions offered at the July 31 meeting.

The Historic Landmarks Commission presented the council with a white paper that recommend appointing a Demolition Task Force directed by the council and including staff from the Bureau of Development Services and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to work with stakeholders to identify building and zoning code changes. At a minimum, the white paper said all residential demolitions should require public notice and a minimum delay.

It also said any remodeling project that removes more than 50 percent of an existing building should be classified as a demolition. And it recommended the city update the Historic Resources Inventory compiled in 1984, even though it provides no permanent protection to the properties on it.

The Coalition for Historic Resources, an umbrella group representing preservation organizations and activists, agreed. Members also said policies should be adopted to ensure that replacement houses fit into the existing neighborhoods.

Individual witnesses offered additional suggestions. Some said the city should require houses to be deconstructed instead of demolished, allowing construction materials to be recycled instead of sent to landfills. Others said steps should be taken to ensure developers do not inadvertently damage adjoining properties, something they said is happening all to often today.

And they all urged that action be taken now instead of waiting until the council approves the update of the Comprehensive Plan that will guide Portland growth for the next 20 or so years. It is not scheduled to be considered by the council until spring 2015.

Tribune article: Resident’s message: Change demo rules

Residents’ message: Change demo rules

 

City Council hearing could produce action ‘soon,’ Hales says

 


 

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO JAIME VALDEZ - Portlanders waive their hands at last weeks City Council hearing to show they agree with a witness who said home demolitions are an epidemic that needs to be slowed.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO JAIME VALDEZ – Portlanders waive their hands at last weeks City Council hearing to show they agree with a witness who said home demolitions are an epidemic that needs to be slowed.

Dozens of Portlanders told the City Council last week that poorly regulated growth is destroying the city and their neighborhoods. 

The complaints ranged from unannounced demolitions of single-family homes and the construction of incompatible replacements to oversized buildings along established corridors, new apartments without enough on-site parking and a lack of protection for historic properties. Other issues included equity, gentrification and the carbon footprint of demolitions and new construction.

“This is a Portland moment. People will look back and say, this is the moment when we will decide the future of our city and beloved neighborhoods,” warned Cathy Galbraith, executive director of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation/Architectural Heritage Center, a local nonprofit preservation organization.

Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Commissioner Steve Novick seemed surprised by much of what they heard. Fritz promised to request $20,000 to fund a pilot project to update part of the city’s 30-year-old Historic Resource Inventory during this fall’s budget adjustment process. Hales told those in the room they will see action “soon,” but didn’t offer details.

Commissioner Nick Fish and Commissioner Dan Saltzman missed the session, which stretched on for around three hours.

Northeast Portland resident Jennifer Moffatt thought that Hales, Fritz and Novick got the message. She is fighting to save the 1911 Markham House at 3206 N.E. Glisan, next to where she lives. It has been bought by a developer who is interested in building two new homes on the site.

“They clearly heard the same comments and common theme from everyone there. They seemed to realize this has gotten ahead of them and they need to act,” Moffatt said the next day.

Galbraith wasn’t sure the council will act quickly enough, if at all.

“We’ll certainly lose a large number of houses as the months roll on,” she said.

Epidemic or not?

The council had not scheduled a hearing on growth issues. But by coincidence, two city commissions that advise on development policies and projects were scheduled to present their annual reports at the July 31 afternoon session. Preservationists and neighborhood activists alarmed by the rapid increase in demolitions and infill projects used the opportunity to pack the Council Chambers and voice their concerns.

“You can’t fault developers for following the rules. There needs to be better rules,” said Galbraith.

As it turned out, both the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission and the Portland Design Commission also raised such issues in their reports. Local architect Brian Emerick, chairman of the landmarks commission, told the council that a “demolition epidemic” is threatening the character of Portland’s neighborhoods. Guenevere Millius, a Portland businesswoman who chairs the design review commission, said the city lacks policies to ensure that new developments fit into their surroundings.

Emerick seemed to score points with Hales, Fritz and Novick when he quoted from a July 2014 Bureau of Planning and Sustainability report that had not been widely circulated. It said the average home demolished between 1996 and 2011 was built in 1927. The demolished homes averaged 1,119 square feet in size and were replaced by homes nearly twice as large. The report also noted that single-family home demolitions sent nearly 20,000 tons of waste to landfills last year. And it said most demolitions are occurring in gentrifying parts of town, displacing residents who cannot afford to buy the replacement homes.

Emerick also said that nearly 20 percent of all existing houses in Portland are on lots that can legally be subdivided, putting them at risk for purchase by developers who will tear them down and build two or more replacement houses.

Witness after witness repeated those themes and warned that the worst is yet to come. “Scrape and build developers” are exploiting the existing rules, said Fred Leeson, vice chairman of the Architectural Heritage Center.

Local builder Jeff Fish argued that demolitions are not at epidemic levels, noting Portland has more than 140,000 houses and only 300 or so are likely to be demolished this year. Novick repeated the argument, pointing out that it will take around 500 years to replace the city’s entire housing stock at the current rate. The argument did not convince those who testified, who countered that even one or two demolitions and infill projects can destroy the fabric of a neighborhood.

Several proposals were made to at least slow the pace of the demolitions. The landmarks commission gave the council a white paper that calls for a mandatory 120-day delay on all demolitions, defining any remodeling projects that remove 50 percent or more of a house as a demolition and the creation of a demolition task force to consider such issues. These ideas were echoed by another preservation group, the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources.

Even Fish said he was working to define the difference between a demolition and major remodeling project as chairman of the Development Review Advisory Committee of the Portland Bureau of Development Services, which issues demolition, remodeling and construction permits.

Several times during the session, Hales and Fritz urged those in attendance to participate in the Comprehensive Plan update process. The update, which the council is scheduled to consider next spring, will shape the city’s growth for the next 20 years. Several speakers said the council needs to take action on the issues now, however. The also said the draft update, which aims to accommodate 200,000 more people by 2035, is too pro-growth.

 

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO JAIME VALDEZ - Mayor Charlie Hales, Commission Amanda Fritz and Commissioner Steve Novick seemed surprised at some of the testimony at last week's City Council hearing.

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO JAIME VALDEZ – Mayor Charlie Hales, Commission Amanda Fritz and Commissioner Steve Novick seemed surprised at some of the testimony at last week’s City Council hearing.

 

Demolitions increase

Although the City Council has been confronted with design and parking issues before, the demolition issue was new to them. It is being handled by the Bureau of Development Services, with advice from Jeff Fish’s committee. A few months ago, BDS reinterpreted a rule to prevent houses from being demolished without notice if developers applied for both a demolition permit and multiple construction permits at the same time. BDS also recently began giving developers door hangers they can voluntarily distribute in neighborhoods where they plan to demolish a house.

Neighborhood activists and preservation advocates argued those changes have not been sufficient. They say a house can still be demolished without notice if a developer applies for a demolition permit and a single construction permit at the same time — even if the developer plans to ultimately build more than one replacement house. And they say demolition notifications should be mandatory to make sure nearby residents can protect themselves from possible hazardous material contamination.

Not all of the houses being demolished are historic. Neighbors and activists are also upset about newer houses being purchased by developers, torn down and replaced with one or more larger dwellings. Some of the houses demolished in recent months have been in relatively good condition, while others had not been well maintained. Southwest Portland residents are mad the city sold an unused water tank to a developer last year. And some residents in Northeast Portland are upset that a 70-year-old red cedar tree might soon be cut down to make way for a second house on a large lot.

The council session happened on the same day that residents in the Eastmoreland neighborhood failed to save a small single-family home from being demolished. Renaissance Homes purchased the ranch-style house with the intent of tearing it down and building two new homes on the lot. Six neighbors agreed to pool their money and buy the home, but they and Renaissance could not agree on a sales price.

Home demolitions are increasing. Last year, the city Bureau of Development Services issued 273 demolition permits — more than the 270 issued in 2006, shortly before the housing bubble burst. The number is expected to top 300 this year, and that does not count homes that are torn down but classified as remodeling projects under city policies.

Residents in some parts of town — such as the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood in Northeast Portland — have been protesting demolitions for years. A lot more people are talking about the issue now because of several recent high-profile controversies.

One that made international headlines involved Google executive Kevin Rose, who took out a demolition permit for a Willamette Heights house that he and his wife bought for $1.3 million. Thousands of people signed an online petition protesting Jones’ plan to replace the 1892 house with a new one. The couple relented by the end of last month, however, and sold the house at 1627 N.W. 32nd Ave. for $75,000 more than they paid for it.

Before that, more than a dozen neighbors in Northwest Portland pooled their resources in May to buy a 1902 house from a developer who planned to replace it with multiple homes. And in April, neighbors in Eastmoreland bought a house from a developer who planned to replace it with two homes. Since then, the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association has tried to prevent the demolition of two other houses.

Commission work

The Historic Landmarks Commission — which addressed the demolition issue most directly in its report — normally toils in near obscurity. It is charged with providing leadership on maintaining and enhancing the city’s historic and architectural heritage. Among other things, it is expected to identify properties in town that have historic or cultural significance or special architectural merit. The commission also coordinates the city’s historic preservation programs and advises the City Council and other agencies on historic preservation matters. And the commission is supposed to be actively involved in the development of design guidelines for historic design districts.

The commission has eight members. None of them can hold elective office. The members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

The annual report covered other commission priorities, including the need to update the Historic Resources Inventory of approximately 5,000 significant properties that was compiled in 1984. Another priority is the need for the city to approve design guidelines in two historic districts targeted for redevelopment, Skidmore Old Town and new Chinatown/Japantown. And the report says the city should help preserve and use historic unreinforced masonry buildings that do not meet earthquake standards.

The report also identified specific properties in Portland that deserve special attention, including the original Blanchet House, Portland Fire & Rescue Engine House No. 2, the Multnomah County Courthouse, Centennial Mills, the Pacific Gas and Coke Building, the Morris Marks House and numerous older Portland Public Schools buildings that have no formal historic designation.

Provide re-zoning testimony through the map app

Attention Eastmoreland neighbors!

For the first time in decades, there are proposals on the table to re-zone areas of the neighborhood. Every Eastmoreland resident can weigh in with comments and suggestions. The Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association applied for a zone change last December, based on Land Use Committee member Meg Merrick’s study of the average lot size for the neighborhood. See the full text here. The analysis demonstrated that Eastmoreland’s lot sizes were more closely aligned with the current definition of an “R-7″ zone (where the minimum lot size is 4200 square feet) than our present “R-5″ designation (minimum lot size 3,000 square feet). Our average lot size exceeds 6900 SF. The city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability agreed with the need to revise the designation but, using its own analysis, recommended that only the area west of SE 36th be re-zoned in the Comprehensive Plan. That’s a start!

But we could lose the re-zoning initiative if we drop the ball now.

The first draft of the Comp Plan was just released on July 21st. It is essential that those of us who wish to preserve trees, green spaces, quality architecture, and house-size-to-lot-size proportions of Eastmoreland (in the face of the increasingly aggressive “demolition derby”) respond equally aggressively to the city’s request for comments on their “Map App”. Testimony from people who include their name and address will be made part of the official record.

Eastmoreland is zoned “R-5” now. “R-5” used to mean “no lot smaller than 5,000 square feet”. As recent demolitions have proved, “R-5” zoning does not protect our neighborhood from demolition and lot-splitting. The Plan District we are developing will impact design elements of new construction. A Historic District would protect some houses, but not all of them. It does not prevent demolition and lot-splitting. RE-ZONING is the “big win”. But we need your help.  Please take a few minutes to visit the “Map App” link below.  What happens during the next few months will dramatically impact the livability of our beloved neighborhood.

How do I provide testimony?
  •  Through the Map App (now live) to www.portlandmaps.com/bps/cpmapp2/
  •  By email: Send comments to psc@portlandoregon.gov with “Comprehensive Plan Testimony” in the subject line.
  • By mail: Send a letter with your comments to the Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC), 1900 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 7100, Portland, OR 97201-5380.
  •  In person: Attend a public hearing in the fall to offer oral testimony directly to the Planning and Sustainability Commission. Check the Comprehensive Plan Calendar for dates, times and locations. The calendar is located here: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/58191

Tips for using Map App:  the link is www.portlandmaps.com/bps/cpmapp2/

Click on purple View the Map

Click on choice number 4:  Neighborhoods, Parks, & Open Space

Click on the Eastmoreland area on the map itself . Eastmoreland will then be outlined in yellow.

Click on  Add/View Comments

Click on purple + symbol on right

Comment, comment, comment!

“Park-In” delays Eastmoreland home’s demolition

By DAVID F. ASHTON
for THE BEE

When Renaissance Homes filed an application to demolish an Eastmoreland home at 3620 S.E. Rural Street and replace it with two narrower homes, the company had to file for a permit and post a notice.

This entitled the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association to file for an additional 120 day extension before the house could come down – and according to ENA Board Member Kimberly Koehler, the paperwork to do so was obtained from Southeast Uplift and filed with the city, on the grounds that the property involved is shorter than is typical.

Then, however, on July 15th, the builder took advantage of what the ENA considers a “loophole” in the city code, set aside the 120 day delay, and prepared to demolish the house immediately.

Koehler explained for THE BEE, “The only mandatory notification requirement for residential demolitions was a reinterpretation of the code that says if a developer takes down ONE house and replaces it with TWO or more, he must post a 35-day Demolition Notification sign on the property. The code also allows neighborhood associations to file for a 120-day delay, which we did – by the deadline.

“So, the developer simply says, ‘I changed my mind. I only want to build ONE new house.’ The 120-day delay is thrown out, and the demolition proceeds with no notice to neighbors about the change of plans. Shameful.

“They refiled, and will build only one house. But this is an end-run – they will then add a permit for the second house. Randy Sebastian, owner of Renaissance Homes, said in front of everyone that he is building two houses, but building them one by one. He should have to wait to build that second house.”

So, on Thursday morning, July 17, the demolition crew arrived to find vehicles parked all the way down the street in front of the home to be demolished, as news media, which had been notified by ENA of the plan the night before, covered the impasse.

Sebastian of Renaissance Homes shook hands with ENA President Robert McCulloch, saying the company would delay demolition by a week. McCulloch told him, “We’re not angry with you, but angry with the city which changed the rules and didn’t have the courtesy to tell us.”

This did not end the demolition plan, or the story. THE BEE will report what happened next in our September issue.520_ENA_demolition_WEB

Southeast Examiner article on demolitions today

Home Demolition Epidemic

JULY 1, 2014 12:00 AM3 COMMENTSVIEWS: 185

By Don MacGillivray

Southeast Examiner

Quality homes are being scraped away. This is not infill or added density, it is the gradual devastation of many neighborhoods and perhaps their rebirth.

Demolitions and existing homes that are mostly demolished and extensively remodeled are increasing all around town as the economy recovers. It is estimated that two percent of Portland’s single family homes will be replaced over the next twenty years.

Over the last five years, demolitions have averaged about 200 per year. Already this year there have been 140 demolitions.

According to Bureau of Development Services statistics, about 230 demolition permits were issued in 2013, an increase of more than 40 percent from 2011. Most were issued along with construction permits, eliminating the need for neighborhood notification.

In addition, around 2,700 alteration and addition permits were issued in 2013, an increase of 370 from 2011. Some of these were projects where a majority of the home was demolished. The number of homes in town being demolished and replaced by one or more larger houses is expected to increase.

The Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland says there’s no end in sight.

A demolition removes an entire building while a renovation can remove almost all the building while using a very small part of it in the new construction which has an impact equal to that of a demolition. The difference is that a demolition usually requires a 35 day delay with notification of the neighbors and other interested parties. The renovation does not require any delay or notification.

Developers may still tear down a single-family dwelling and not notify neighbors if only one new house is built on the property and the two permits are filled together.

Some of the impacted city neighborhoods include: Reed, Sunnyside, Eastmoreland, Sellwood, Mount Scott/Arleta, Mount Tabor, Northwest District Association, Alameda, Rose City Park, Beaumont-Wilshire and many others.

In the Reed neighborhood, homes were built in the mid-20th century and all of a similar style. These demolitions anger residents as they see the continuity and desirability of their neighborhood change before their eyes without any foreknowledge. They want to change the rules to save the character and ambiance of their neighborhoods. The larger scale and different style of the new homes stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

One potential solution is to change the zoning code and /or the zoning map to give neighbors a chance to influence these decisions. The more popular change is for the city to notify neighborhoods well in advance before a home is torn down.

Leaders of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association have written a change of code policy stating when 50% or more of the enclosed volume of a residential structure is proposed to be removed, 45 day notice provided to the neighborhood.

The zoning code is a looseleaf binder over seven inches thick comprising 1600 pages of technical information. Those using it are the most familiar with it, but it is very difficult for the lay public to understand. Difficult too to be sure there aren’t any loopholes elsewhere in the code.

For example, if the Community Design Standards are used, developers can bypass the usual delays and notifications that are otherwise required.

In defense of the actions of the owners, developers, designers, and contractors, this is their business and the way they make their living.

Developers will tell you Metro’s urban growth boundary does not provide enough land to meet the need for new housing in the region. There are plenty of small homes on large lots that can be replaced with significant profit. Most of the best available land to meet the need is to be found in the city of Portland.

Many builders have made a calculated bet: it is better to sell fewer new homes at higher prices than to build more at lower prices. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the lack of affordable low-income housing in Portland.

This is an old problem in Portland. It is part of the foundation of the neighborhood association system adopted forty years ago.

On an irregular basis, neighborhood leaders have railed against development projects they find objectionable. Neighborhoods have worked through the system to change this without success.

In 1973, the task force formed to create a neighborhood system failed for all neighborhoods to veto local development projects by a vote 60% against-40% for.

They have worked on architectural preservation studies (1975 and 1984); the Comprehensive Plan (1977-1981); Neighborhood Plans (1988-1999); Public Involvement Principles (1996 & 2008) and Vision PDX.

Still we don’t have what we’ve been promised. The revision of the Comprehensive Plan zoning policies is another good opportunity if it is successful.

Neighborhood activists that want to change the rules met to discuss the issues on May 6 and June 11 and they are planning to meet again.

Southeast Uplift, the coalition of neighborhoods, voted to support the resolution for Eastmoreland earlier this summer. Those that want the issue to go away seem to believe that it is impossible to make everyone happy. So until something is done, the “claw of the backhoe” will continue to do its dirty work.

For more information, see the five Housing Needs Analysis Reports, the background for the Comprehensive Plan at: www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/59298