The Historic Resources Code Project (HRCP) Proposed Draft recommends changes to the City of Portland’s regulations for identifying, designating, protecting, and reusing historic places.
Orientation to the Proposed Draft
The HRCP Proposed Draft was released in September 2020 following incorporation of public feedback received in response to an earlier Discussion Draft and in the initial development of project concepts. The Proposed Draft recommends changes to the City of Portland’s zoning code provisions that relate to identifying, designating, protecting, and reusing historic resources—both those resources that have an existing historic resource status and those that may be identified and/or designated as a historic resource in the future.
The Proposed Draft includes two volumes:
The Staff Report describes the proposals and explains why the proposals are being made.
Volume 2 includes the zoning code amendment language with commentary to explain the proposed changes.
For individuals interested in learning more about how the proposals would affect a specific property—for example a tenant in a Historic District or an owner of a Historic Landmark—summaries of the proposed changes can be found by locating the property on the MapApp or selecting the applicable resource type page:
- Proposed changes for Historic Landmarks
- Proposed changes for Conservation Landmarks
- Proposed changes for Historic Districts
- Proposed changes for Conservation Districts
- Proposed changes for Historic Resource Inventory Properties
Historic Resources 101
The protection of historic resources has been a City of Portland priority for more than 50 years—Provisions for identifying, designating, protecting, and reusing historic places have been codified in the zoning code; a field of historians, designers, and tradespeople have emerged to provide expertise in building restoration; and tenants, owners, and the broad public serve as stewards of wide range of historic buildings, landscapes, and structures. Since establishment of Portland’s first historic preservation ordinance in 1968, more than 700 individual landmarks and 25 districts across Portland have been designated and protected for their architectural, cultural, and historic significance. These include such iconic places as the Pittock Mansion, Paul Bunyan statue, Bagdad Theater and much of North Mississippi Avenue.
The City of Portland’s historic resource program is largely local in nature, but a patchwork of related state and federal programs create unique constraints and opportunities affecting the procedures and regulations that can be codified in the city’s zoning code. These include the role of listing in the National Register of Historic Places, the criteria required to access state and federal tax incentives, National Park Service best practices for altering historic resources, the applicability of Oregon’s “owner consent” law and compliance with Statewide Land Use Goal 5. Within this framework, and within the framework of Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan, the Historic Resources Code Project proposes significant changes to the zoning code to make Portland’s historic resource regulations more equitable, effective, and responsive to the current and future needs of Portlanders.
Types of Historic Resources
The existing roster of historic resources is comprised of individual properties and collections of properties that have been identified and formally recognized by the City of Portland and/or the National Park Service for their archaeological, architectural, cultural, or historic significance. In addition to embodying important stories from the past, these recognized historic resources generally retain physical integrity from their period of historic significance (i.e. does a building look like it did at the time of its construction or during the years that an important individual lived there).
Recognized historic resources fall into two categories, undesignated and designated:
Undesignated resources have been identified by the City of Portland as having potential significance but have not gone through a formal designation procedure. Undesignated resources are, at most, protected by a 120-day demolition delay period. These resources are often known by their significance ranking (i.e. Rank III on the Historic Resources Inventory).
Designated resources have been determined to have demonstrable significance and, unlike undesignated resources, have gone through a formal nomination and designation procedure with the City of Portland or the National Park Service. Designated resources are landmarks and districts that have been assigned as Historic, Conservation or National Register based on the resource’s level of significance and the appropriateness of the protections that correspond to that resource type.
Portland’s existing roster of recognized historic places tell diverse stories about the city’s history and people, yet significant inequities exist in the geographic and thematic distribution of the resources and protections that apply to them. Recognized historic resources can be found on the Historic Resource Webmap. The proposed zoning code amendments described in the sections that follow neither add or remove resources from the citywide roster, but establish new provisions for identifying, designating (and removing), protecting, and reusing historic resources into the future.
The HRCP zoning code proposals uphold and advance the following value statements:
Meaningful and tangible connections to the past enhance the lived experiences of current and future community members.
Extending the useful life of existing buildings retains embodied carbon and reduces landfill waste.
Historic resources provide opportunities to acknowledge, address and reverse past harms.
The broad community should be engaged in the identification and designation of historic resources, with underrepresented histories prioritized for protection.
Historic places must continually evolve to meet the changing needs of Portlanders.
The Historic Resources Code Project is divided into five themes:
Identification. The City of Portland has not conducted systematic citywide inventory of historic places since 1984. Code proposals would re-define the Historic Resource Inventory as an umbrella term (rather than a specific resource type) for all historic resource types, as well as establish a new hierarchy of resource types subject to regulations in the zoning code.
Designation. Since the mid-1990s, Portland has relied almost exclusively on owner-initiated listings in the National Register of Historic Places as the basis for Historic Landmark and Historic District designation. Code proposals would establish a clear hierarchy of historic resource types to allow for greater local control in determining and amending the appropriate level of designation – and consequently, regulation – applied to specific landmarks and districts. New criteria would ensure underrepresented histories are prioritized for landmark and district designation and new procedures would increase public involvement in the designation – and removal – of landmark and district status.
Protection. Existing regulations have been ineffective at protecting City-designated historic resources from demolition, have over regulated residential Historic Districts, and have required review of proposals so minor that their possible effect on the integrity of historic resources is negligible. Code proposals would apply demolition review to all designated individual landmarks and contributing resources in districts, as well as scale demolition and design protections to hierarchically align with the three levels of designation —Historic, Conservation, and National Register. For all three levels, code proposals would increase the list of projects exempt from design protections, including allowing certain new detached accessory structures, exterior alterations, and solar installations without review.
Reuse. The ability to adaptively reuse existing buildings is generally limited to the uses allowed by the base zone applied to the site. For historic resources – especially those built before the application of modern zoning – allowing greater use flexibility expands economic opportunities to justify complex and costly rehabilitation projects. Code proposals would exempt all designated landmarks and districts from parking requirements and, for certain designated historic resources, increase opportunities to add housing units through internal conversions, reduce requirements for transferring unused floor area, and provide a suite of options for establishing new residential and non-residential uses not otherwise allowed by the zoning code.
Administration. Applicants, City staff and interested Portlanders have identified opportunities to improve the procedures, thresholds and criteria that implement historic resource regulations. Among other administrative changes, code proposals would make changes to the land use procedure types that apply to alteration and demolition applications and make changes to the role and makeup of the Historic Landmarks Commission.