What is a “local district”?

Some opponents of a national historic district designation have suggested that there’s an alternative. This so-called “local district” has gained some attention because the rules changed in January as part of a change to Statewide Planning Goal 5 which modified the consent rules. Previously, consent of 100% of property owners was required, whereas it’s now a simple majority.

There are two main problems with the “local district”:

  1. Lack of Demolition Protection — A local district offers no demolition protection. It does allow for demolition delay, but cannot prevent eventual demolition of homes the way a national historic district would.
  2. Local Districts Aren’t an Option in Portland — While the state allows for a local preservation district, it’s still up to Cities to create the codes that support them. Portland building and zoning codes do not include these today, so the City will have to first update those in order for a local historic district to be established, a process which the City has noted would take a year or more.

Recently, HD opponents have stated that Mayor Wheeler’s budget includes a line item for this to be accomplished. HEART looked into this and reached out to Brandon Spencer-Hartle, City Planner with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Services. According to Brandon from an email communication on May 17:

Recently-adopted changes to the Goal 5 administrative rule suggest that local governments can create local historic districts with the affirmative consent of a majority of property owners. Allowing local governments increased opportunities to designate local historic districts was something that gained broad support from the rule-making committee and many testifiers at the rule adoption hearing.

Although the rule change opens the door to developing new options for local historic and conservation districts, the City of Portland still requires 100% owner consent for local designation and local designation still only comes with 120-day demolition delay. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is planning a zoning code project that will revise the program for local historic districts, as well as address numerous other historic resource issues. This project will develop proposals for:

  • Expanding exemptions and flexible options for minor changes in National Register historic districts,
  • Creating new processes for the establishment of local landmark and conservation districts, and
  • Establishing a procedure to apply historic resource review to new listings in the National Register of Historic Places.

Any concrete details on the scope of revisions to local district options are still many months down the road. At this time, it is not known if local district designation will include demolition review. The Mayor’s recommended budget for FY 2017-18 includes funding for zoning code amendment projects, including the historic resource project, so if you have heard “news” about this project, it is probably about the funding for the zoning code changes.

Our hope is to have the new code in front of City Council in a year. Any new local districts would have to be formed after that, so it could be 18 months and likely more before the yet-to-be-defined options will be available for nomination.

So waiting for something that may never come and may never include the benefits offered that a national historic designation does (in this case, demolition protection) will only leave Eastmoreland exposed to further demolitions and degradation of neighborhood character.


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