Friday, November 5, 2021

Preservation Battle: Same Old, Same Old (So Far...)

Portland City Council (top two rows)

 Six hours of testimony before the Portland City Council this week reflected all the heat and little new light about changing how the city identifies and manages its historic landmarks and historic districts.

 The arguments for and against historic preservation showed little new from prior years, with the notable exception of who DIDN’T show up.

The homebuilders’ lobby and One Thousand Friends of Oregon, originally a farmland preservation group, have led the fight against historic districts for several years now.  They appear to have been replaced by new faces using the same talking points under the label Portland Neighbors Welcome.

Their pitch contends that historic districts stand in the way of affordable housing, and that standards for demolishing buildings for new development should be made easier. They want fewer building restrictions, faster government approvals and relaxed height standards.  They offer no proof, however, that their amendments create affordable housing. 

If there was truth in their contentions, you would think we would see results in many Portland neighborhoods where no historic standards are maintained.  Alas, we don't. 

 Lincoln Tuchow, a Portland Realtor, testified that rents in the plethora of new apartment buildings are more expensive than rents in old buildings.  He also said that whenever an old house is demolished, the unit that replaces it is more expensive. 

Both preservation advocates and the construction lobby have offered to the City Council amendments to the proposed Historic Resources Code Project under discussion.  The council is supposed to declare by Dec. 1 which, if any, amendments they want to consider at a council meeting on Dec. 15. 

It would be reading tea leaves to guess at this point if any amendments will be proposed.  Since three of the five commissioners are in their first year on the council, there is a perception that the "newbies" are unwilling to challenge measures brought to the council by another, for the sake of maintaining personal  relationships.  Alas, if that's true, it puts good public policy in potential jeopardy. 

As part of the lengthy hearing this week, Rod Merrick an architect and preservation advocate, listed 10 reasons why preservation is important.  If you happen to be new to the world of preservation they amount to a brief, informative primer.

1.       Preservation guides change to protect historic resources -our architecture, landscapes, and culture. 

2.       Preservation is environmentally and ecologically the most sustainable form of development.  

3.       Preservation promotes local craft skills and the local business that supply products for those crafts. 

4.       Preservation of existing structures limits demolitions that are the largest volume of material that is trucked to landfills. 

5.       Preservation protects the treasures of a city for the education and enjoyment of visitors and fellow residents. 

6.       Preservation promotes the sense of place that builds community and civic pride. 

7.       Preservation drives tourism world-wide. Portland is very much in need of preserving its appeal beyond providing a landing place for exploration of the beautiful landscapes beyond the Metro boundaries. 

8.       Preservation attracts investment in unstable and declining neighborhoods. 

9.       Preservation is an expression of appreciation and provides soul to every place where it is practiced. 

10.   Historic Preservation districts affect less than 3% of Portland's housing stock. They contribute to housing affordability by:

a.       Preserving existing housing stock which is often the most affordable housing

b.      Curbing speculative upmarket redevelopment

c.       Discouraging demolition and displacement.

1 comment:

  1. Merrick makes some good points. Accelerated development is a throw-way system; demolishing still-good buildings for something newer, bigger, more expensive and shorter-lived. Buildings become more affordable as they age, and if they're cut down in midlife, the affordable half of their natural life is lost.