Southeast Portland's Buckman neighborhood is facing a big decision: Should the entire neighborhood be declared historic?
A group of neighbors are petitioning the city to become a historic district. Portland has numerous historic districts, including the eastside residential neighborhoods of Ladd's Addition and Irvington, and the designation is a mixed bag. Basically, if a neighborhood is a historic district, people who want to change their houses or build new projects have to go through extra-serious design review that's intended to make all new development have the same "character" as the existing neighborhood.
City planner Tim Heron spelled out the positives for me: Historic districts increase property values and protect historic buildings. "It's all about what you see when you move into a district," says Heron. "Historic districts preserve a certain look that some Buckman residents clearly want to preserve."
The extra design review comes with a steep cost, however, and some neighbors are rallying against the change. To stop the designation, critics need to get 50 percent of property owners in the area (plus one) to sign a notarized letter of dissent.
Buckman resident Greg Moulliet hosted a notarizing party in his home late last month. He turned against the historic district idea when he found out that, under the proposed rules, removing the asbestos from his Victorian-era house would cost $1900 in permits and require a 54 day review. Currently, there's no permit needed. There are some exemptions to the new permit rules, but many home-improvement projects that currently require no sign-off from the city would require at minimum 54 days of waiting and $1,050 in permit fees.
Northeast Portland's Irvington neighborhood became a historic district in 2010—it's a point of pride for many neighbors, but now the design review fee for something as simple as replacing a door or window starts at $1,050. The city is currently looking into rewriting the code to potentially grant more exceptions to the fees.
For now, it's up to neighbors to hash out the pros and cons.