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Recommended changes for Conservation Districts

A view of a brick building from across the street
Conservation Districts are collections of properties designated by the City for their historic significance. This page provides a summary of the primary HRCP recommendations applicable to Conservation Districts.

Demolition review

Yellow crane demolishing a brick building with stained glass windows
Proposed amendments would apply a demolition review requirement to all contributing resources in Conservation Districts. Photo: Scott Tice.

Proposals to demolish contributing buildings in Conservation Districts are subject to 120-day demolition delay, an administrative regulation that cannot be extended or denied. The recommended code amendments would require demolition review for proposals to raze contributing buildings in Conservation Districts. Demolition review is a discretionary land use decision made against approval criteria before a demolition application is approved. The recommended application of demolition review to contributing resources in Conservation Districts would allow an applicant to choose among several approval criteria to justify a proposed demolition, with a Type III (Historic Landmarks Commission) procedure required to gain approval. Applications to demolish a contributing resource that are approved through demolition review would be allowed to access bonus development potential on sites in mixed use, multi-dwelling and single-dwelling zones not otherwise allowed. Demolition review would not apply to accessory structures such as sheds and garages regardless of their age.

Changes to historic resource review

Two men installing particle board walls
Properties in Conservation Districts would still be able to meet the Community Design Standards as an alternative to historic resource review. Photo: Erin Riddle.

Alteration, addition, and new construction proposals in Conservation Districts are subject to a discretionary review known as historic resource review. However, unlike in Historic Districts, properties in Conservation Districts can avoid historic resource review if a proposed alteration meets the clear-and-objective Community Design Standards. The recommended amendments retain the existing Community Design Standards alternative in Conservation Districts, while also recommending changes to the historic resource review procedure types and exemptions to provide more flexibility. Recommended changes to procedure types are intended to better align review fees and timelines with the scale of the proposed alterations. Finally, new exemptions to historic resource review are recommended to allow for certain alterations and new buildings, such as small signs and detached accessory structures, to proceed without historic resource review or compliance with the Community Design Standards.

Increased opportunities for adaptive reuse

Yellow bungalow house
Code proposals would allow for accessory commercial uses in certain situations, such as converting a contributing house’s garage to a café in areas near transit.

Many contributing resources in Conservation Districts have the potential to be adapted to new and creative uses without harming significant historic features. Allowing for the reuse of historic resources provides economically viable options for rehabilitation, increases public access to historic places and provides opportunities for interpreting the past through the lens of contemporary values. The recommended changes would allow contributing resources to be used in ways not otherwise allowed by zoning, such as additional housing types in residential zones and certain accessory retail and office uses near transit. Additionally, requirements for providing on-site parking would be removed.

New rules for building relocation

Small yellow historic house on a trailer in the street
The proposed amendments establish new procedures and approval criteria for relocation to better provide adequate time for buildings like the Mayo House to be moved before a proposed demolition can occur.

New provisions, which are absent today, are recommended to allow contributing resources to be relocated, subject to review and approval by the Historic Landmarks Commission.

Amending district details

Brick 2-story commercial building on Mississippi Ave
Portland’s existing Conservation Districts were created by City Council in 1993. The proposals establish procedures and criteria to allow for changes to the boundaries and contributing statuses of resources in the districts.

Today’s zoning code does not provide a process for amending the contributing (historic) status of properties in Conservation Districts. The proposal recommends a new procedure to allow for owner-initiated requests to change the contributing status of their property to reflect on-the-ground reality. The proposed changes would also allow City Council to revise Conservation District boundaries, as well as reconsider the Conservation District designation when no longer appropriate.

Although not included in the HRCP scope, reevaluating the boundaries of existing Conservation Districts has been identified by project staff as a potential future work item following the adoption of the necessary zoning code amendments.

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