Understanding Portland’s Historic Zoning Regulations

Oregon Demolition ContractorsHistoric buildings and resources are classified by the city of Portland. City zoning regulations and incentives vary, and may have different requirements for Oregon demolition and construction, depending on the location and/or designation. Oregon demolition companies should also be aware that some properties may have more than one designation.

In previous posts, we have covered some of the issues surrounding Portland’s current and forecasted growth. We have advocated for a balanced demolition approach that respects both preservationists and property rights supporters. Although some may blame demolition companies for expansion problems, we argue that demolition companies are experts in green demolition practices and asset recovery that preserves historic Portland structures.

Since Portland’s codes confuse some, and have allowed other contractors to skirt seemingly shifting rules, we would like to highlight the City’s major historic distinctions. We also reflect on what these designations mean for Portland demolition projects.

Oregon Demolition Contractors Explain Portland’s Historic Structure Designations

Portland has several types of designations that affect demolition. These designations can prompt one of three responses: Demolition Review, Demolition Delay Review, or No review.

Historic Landmarks. This category identifies individual resources that have historical, cultural, archeological, or architectural merit. Local and national registries affect building code restrictions. Local landmarks are subject to Demolition Delay Review, and National landmarks are subject to Demolition Review. Portland has over 500 historic landmarks, mainly concentrated in older inner city areas, and along the old streetcar lines.

Conservation Landmarks. There are 13 local Portland landmarks, designated by the city. In general, the level of significance for these landmarks is lower than it is for historic landmarks, although in the code the term “landmark” refers to both historical and conservation landmarks.

Historic Districts. These are geographical areas within the city that contain a higher concentration of “thematically related historic resources,” according to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Historic districts may be local or national; however, all of Portland’s local historical districts are also on the national registrar. One important distinction here is “contributing” vs. “non-contributing” resources. Contributing resources date from the historic period and add to the significance and character of the neighborhood. Non-contributing resources do not contribute to the historical nature of the area. There are 14 historic districts in Portland.

Conservation Districts. Like conservation landmarks, these are city designations that are generally lower in significance than their historic counterparts. The contributing/non-contributing distinction also applies to the six conservation districts in Portland.

Properties listed in the Historic Resources Inventory. In 1984, Portland started compiling a list of 5000 potentially significant properties. Being listed in the HRI is not a true historic designation, but it will subject you to a 120-day demolition delay period.

In summary, the classification of a historic building will determine if demolition is subject to review or delay.

  • Demolition Review: Historic Landmark/National Register, Contributing factor in Historical District
  • Demolition Delay Review: Local Historic Landmark, Conservation Landmark, Contributing factor in Conservation District, Ranked in HRI
  • No review: Non-contributing factor in historic district, Non-contributing factor in conservation district, unranked in HRI

Portland Historic Designation Process and Review. The city of Portland uses historic review as one of its major preservation tools. They want to ensure that modifications preserve uniquely historical properties. Generally, alterations to historic or conservation landmarks require review. Construction of new buildings or alterations within historic districts is also subject to Historic Design Review to ensure that changes will support the qualities inherent in the district. Normal repair and maintenance to interiors is not subject to review. Major reviews are processed through a public hearing, while BDS staff processes smaller reviews.

Building Codes. You should be aware of the following building codes when dealing with historic buildings in Portland:
• Oregon One and Two Family Dwelling Code,
• The Oregon Structural Specialty Code, and
• The Oregon Uniform Family code.
In addition, the City of Portland Title 24: Building Regulations codes also apply to construction and demolition.

It is important for developers and contractors to be aware of these historic designations and how they can affect project planning and implementation. If you have questions about how Elder can help, and what we can do to properly assess historical structures, give us a call today.

[Photo by  FreeImages.com/Cameron H via Content License Agreement]

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