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Planning and Sustainability Commission unanimously recommends changes to Portland’s historic preservation rules governing landmark buildings and other historic areas

News Article
Recommended Draft of the Historic Resources Code Project to be published in July; City Council hearings and adoption expected this fall.

On May 4, Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC) voted to recommend City Council adopt the Historic Resources Code Project (HRCP), a package of zoning code amendments related to the identification, designation, protection, and reuse of Portland’s historic buildings, structures and districts. The PSC’s recommendation followed six months of deliberations in response to public testimony. The recommended zoning code amendments will be published in July, prior to one or more City Council hearings occurring in the fall.

historic and conservation landmarks and districts have more protections; National register and significant resources have fewer protections
Recommended code changes would revise the protections that apply to different historic resource types.

The HRCP code amendments propose to update the rules and procedures for inventorying significant historic resources, designating landmarks and districts, regulating demolition and design changes, and encouraging adaptive reuse of older buildings.

The changes would also elevate the eligibility of under-represented historic resources – such as places significant for cultural and social history – for future designation, as well as establish procedures for re-evaluating the status of previously-designated resources that may no longer be appropriate for protection.

How we got here: Planning and Sustainability Commission amendments

In September 2020, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability staff published a Proposed Draft of the HRCP code amendments, which was followed by virtual public hearings before the PSC on October 27 and November 10, 2020. Seventy people testified verbally to the PSC and 278 pieces of written testimony were submitted in writing. Both oral and written testimony is available for review on the MapApp.

After the public testimony period closed on November 10, 2020, the PSC held seven work sessions to consider possible amendments to the Proposed Draft. The chair of the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC), Kristen Minor, participated in each of the work sessions. In addition to these work sessions, a work group consisting of three members each of the PSC and the HLC (“3x3”) met four times to discuss possible amendments to the Proposed Draft.

Following the work sessions and supplemental “3x3” meetings, the PSC moved and supported 14 amendments to the Proposed Draft. The amendments ranged from minor technical modifications to meaningful revisions to proposals included in the Proposed Draft. Three categories of amendments generated the most discussion between commissioners:

  1. District designation process and criteria.
    The PSC supported an amendment to require a joint hearing between the PSC and HLC whenever a new Historic or Conservation District is proposed for designation or removal. The PSC also supported prioritizing under-represented histories in the approval criteria applied to proposals to designate such districts. City Council would serve as the decision maker for proposals to establish – or eliminate – a Historic or Conservation District in the future.
  2. Increased flexibility for alterations in residential districts.
    The PSC supported amendments to exempt certain solar energy installations, electric vehicle charging outlets, window replacements, and new detached accessory structures from historic resource review. The PSC also supported an amendment to eliminate existing demolition review requirements for most detached accessory structures (such as garages and sheds).
  3. Refinements to adaptive reuse incentives.
    In response to public testimony, the PSC supported an amendment to narrow the applicability of adaptive reuse incentives in residential zones.

Next steps

Project staff are incorporating the PSC’s 14 amendments into a revised Recommended Draft of the code proposals, which will be released in July for public review. City Council will hold one or more public hearings, likely in the fall. Following the public hearing(s), Council will adopt — or adopt with further amendments — the HRCP zoning code amendments.