A long political war of attrition against architectural preservation and historic districts by the Portland homebuilding lobby returns for what could be a developers’ triumph at a Portland City Council hearing that begins Nov. 3.
A major revision of Portland’s rules for designating and protecting city’s historic landmarks would dilute the membership and authority of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, and cede more responsibility for historic matters to the developer-driver Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission.
Assuming they are approved, the changes probably will make it harder to create new historic landmarks and allow the city to chip away at the city’s existing districts, either block by block, building by building or by elimination entirely. Gossip also suggests that amendments may be offered to the City Council that are even more severe than the proposed code changes.
The proposed rules, in concert with earlier changes by the Oregon Legislature, whittle away at protections in National Historic Districts to varying degrees, depending on when the districts were approved by the National Park Service.
Some elements to the proposal that will win support from the preservation community. These include better opportunities for placing solar panels on historic properties, and allowing demolition of stand-alone garages to make more space available for accessory dwelling units.
Current rules require five of the seven landmarks members to have professional experience or expertise in preservation–related areas. The proposed rules suggest that all seven members have “an interest” in preservation, but all new members, appointed by the mayor, conceivably could know little about it. Filling the commission with bankers, economists and contractors will make preservation even more of an uphill fight.
However, the Planning and Sustainability Commission would be the body involved in recommending additions or changes to historic districts. Given the makeup of the current commission, is it’s laughable to think they would propose anything but reductions to the city’s landmark districts.
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