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Recommended changes for Historic Districts

foreground large red brick building with raised walkway along streetside
Historic Districts are collections of properties designated for their historic significance by the City or National Park Service. This page provides a summary of the primary HRCP recommendations applicable to Historic Districts.

Historic resource review criteria

Small house with peaked roof and painted in bright colors
Minor amendments to the approval criteria that apply in Historic Districts that do not have district-specific design guidelines — including Irvington — provide clarity regarding expectations for design compatibility with nearby contributing resources.

Alteration, addition, and new construction proposals in Historic Districts are subject to a discretionary review known as historic resource review. The approval criteria for historic resource review are most often district-specific guidelines such as the East Portland/Grand Avenue Historic District Design Guidelines, but for some districts (such as Irvington and Kenton) the approval criteria are more general. The recommended code amendments do not include changes to district-specific guidelines but do recommend changes to the more general criteria to provide increased clarity and options in situations where district-specific guidelines do not apply. In areas where multiple sets of criteria apply, the recommendations provide additional clarity on the applicability and hierarchy of the criteria that must be met for project approval.

Historic resource review thresholds

Barbershop pole
The proposed changes will streamline the review of small exterior alterations, such as signs that aren’t exempt from review.

Proposals subject to historic resource review are assigned a procedure type, with smaller projects assigned a lower procedure (i.e Type I) and larger projects assigned a higher procedure (i.e. Type III). These types correspond with application fees, timeline for review and the assigned decision-maker. City staff are the decision-makers for Type I and Type II applications and the Historic Landmarks Commission holds hearings and make decisions for Type III applications. The recommended amendments change these thresholds to better align the impact of proposed work with procedure types. Importantly, the recommended amendments would allow new buildings smaller than 5000 square feet to be reviewed by City staff and not the Historic Landmarks Commission.

Historic resource review exemptions

Illustration of aerial view of two houses with solar panels
The recommended code amendments expand the list of improvements that would be exempt from historic resource review, including larger detached accessory structures and most solar energy systems.

The existing code provides a list of activities that are not subject to historic resource review because of their minimal impact on the historic features and characteristics of Historic Districts. These existing exemptions include certain maintenance, repair, mechanical and vent work. The recommended code amendments expand the list of exemptions to allow solar panels on all roof slopes, larger detached accessory structures, removal of service chimneys, replacement of certain windows and several other common improvements to proceed without historic resource review.

Increased opportunities for adaptive reuse

A house with steps leading up to the porch, and a green lawn
The Clarence E. Moulton House, a 1911 Conservation Landmark that was converted into condominium housing due to the special use flexibility currently afforded to landmarks and proposed for expansion to Historic Districts. Photo: Addam Goard.

Many contributing resources in Historic Districts have the potential to be adapted to new and creative uses without harming significant historic features. Additionally, the presence of historic resource review ensures that alterations and new construction in Historic Districts will be designed to respond to the historic characteristics of the District. Allowing for the reuse of historic resources and encouraging compatible infill on developable sites 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 both contributing and non-contributing resources to be used in ways not otherwise allowed by zoning, such as additional housing types in single-dwelling zones and accessory retail and office uses near transit. Additionally, requirements for providing on-site parking would be removed.

Streamlined process for garage demolition

Close-up of garage roof line with half of roof missing
The proposed amendments allow for quicker and less costly review and approval of demolition of historic accessory structures. Photo: Scott Tice.

Today’s regulations require a Type IV (City Council) demolition review procedure to remove contributing accessory structures in Historic Districts. The recommended code changes would eliminate the demolition review requirement for most detached accessory structures, allowing garages and sheds to be removed without a review process.

New rules for building relocation

Historic building on trailer pulled by large truck
While moving historic resources is rare, the proposed amendments establish new procedures and approval criteria for relocation. Photo: Erin Riddle.

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.

New resource type for districts listed since 2017

Side of historic building with Spanish-style architecture
Laurelhurst and Peacock Lane are two districts that have been listed in the National Register since the 2017 change in State Rule— both are proposed to be assigned the new National Register District resource type.

The Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission adopted new Administrative Rules in January 2017 pertaining to the protection of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Districts listed in the National Register after January 2017 are proposed to be renamed as National Register Districts, to be consistent with the State Rules. Contributing resources in National Register Districts would be subject to demolition review, but historic resource review would not apply. These areas include Laurelhurst and Peacock Lane and, if listed in the future by the National Park Service, Eastmoreland.

Proposals to demolish contributing buildings in Historic Districts are subject to Type IV (City Council) demolition review, with existing approval criteria relating to 1) economic hardship and 2) the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan. The recommended amendments reduce the procedure to Type III (Historic Landmarks Commission) for proposals to demolish contributing buildings in National Register Districts and, as with Historic Districts, completely exempts proposals to demolish accessory structures from demolition review. Furthermore, the recommendation expands the demolition review approval criteria in National Register Districts beyond the Historic District criteria to include additional criteria related to mitigation and affordable housing.

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