What Happened in Other Historic Districts?

Residents who live in the neighborhood between Irvington and Alameda tried, unsuccessfully, to remove themselves from the Irvington Historic District, and have shared some experiences on their blog, alamedaoverlap.

Interested in opinions from Eastmoreland residents?

window replacement nightmare


Sale Failure

"As a realtor, one of my home listings sale failed in Irvington due to the Historic District. The prospective buyer of 1730 NE Brazee St discovered during due diligence that it was unlikely he would be able to add a dormer to the rear of the house. After learning he would not be able to make the changes he wanted to the home, he backed out of the purchase."

Dana Griggs – Realtor

Improvements Hassle in Ladd's Addition

"In June 2007, I purchased a small house in Ladd’s Addition. My wife and were excited to renovate our new home, hired an architect, and began what we thought should be a four month renovation. Much to our surprise, the Historic Design Review extended eight months and required three separate plan revisions by two separate architects in a futile effort to appease the City of Portland and the neighbors. Both the City of Portland and the neighbors demanded we make the non-contributing structure appear historic. We spent well over $30,000 during this process including the Design Review fees, architect fees, and the mortgage for the unoccupied home. The worst part of the process was dealing with our neighbors, who mischaracterized the remodel of the home as a “massive expansion of a non-contributing structure” when we were trying to add approximately 500 square feet to a 1,580 square foot non-conforming house. One of the neighbors even demanded that we present our plans to him so that he could “provide input on the proposed design and materials, rather than doing this through the Landmarks Review.” Ultimately we abandoned our plans, leaving the house its original size and focusing our energy on the interior improvements. It wasn’t the warmest welcome to the neighborhood. Thankfully we have meet many wonderful people in the neighborhood since we moved into our home in November, 2008."

Ben Henzel – Ladd's Home Owner

Property Tax Increase

"My home is on the Historic Register and I participated in the tax abatement program 19 years ago. However, when my home came to the end of the 15 year tax abatement, it was revalued and I pay substantially more property tax than if I would have not gone the Historic Register. The tax savings over the 15 year period have virtually been wiped out in last 4 years and I pay double the property tax compared to my neighbors. If I would have NOT participated in the program, I would have been protected by the 3% max yearly increase."

Rob Lloyd – Buckman Home Owner

Craftsman Porch on a Craftsman House

This story should serve as a concrete example of what people should expect if they elect to establish a historic district. I bought a house in Irvington last year without having any idea of there being a historic district. The house, a 1911 craftsman, has a stoop but no porch, which was something we were looking for. My wife and I decided that we would build a porch, which would essentially be an extension of the stoop to the sides. We discussed it with a contractor, who brought our attention to the historic district rules. Don't be fooled by those who will tell you that a National Register of Historic Places listing is only honorary and doesn't carry any real regulations with it. That is true only in the narrowest sense. There are no federal regulations that come with the listing. However, as soon as a neighborhood is listed, Oregon state and Portland local laws become applicable immediately. I became familiar with those rules as listed in the Portland city code. The language is opaque so I called the city for clarification. I ended up speaking with David Skilton, who is in charge of historic reviews for the city. I told him what I hoped to do, which was to build a porch that was in keeping with the style of the house and character of the neighborhood. This is exactly what he said to me: "Did the house originally have a porch?" I answered no. He said, "Well I can't see how we can approve that then." I responded along the lines of "Wasn't the whole point to preserve the character of the neighborhood" and so on. He essentially said no, it was about preserving the structures as they are. So don't believe it when the preservationists give you some line like "the neighborhood is the historic resource and we aren't concerned about the individual structures." That is absolutely not true. Furthermore, if you decide to try your luck and get a project approved, it will cost you dearly. To get approval to change even a single window is a minimum of nearly $1000, and it gets much higher for larger projects. And that is just to ask permission. They'll still say no and keep your money. We haven't even bothered to submit our proposal –why waste our money. 
Don't be fooled by the preservationists, they essentially want to control what you can do with your house and not compensate you one bit for your loss of control over your own property. The whole tax break thing only helps you if you buy a run down structure that you are going to restore. And the whole thing about increased property values doesn't hold up on analysis. Historic districts have tended to get established in gentrifying areas where values were increasing anyway.

Jeffrey La Rochelle – Irvington Home Owner

Uncertainty, Time and Cost

"We just went through Irvington Historical Design review this summer. It's important to note that it's not just a problem of fees, the statutory requirements also impose significant project delay (minimum 6 weeks, up to 8) or longer if there is an appeal; which the neighborhood association gets to file at no cost whereas it is additional cost if the homeowner requests. To me, this creates an unnecessary element of uncertainty in the mind of a homeowner wishing to make an improvement. As your article suggests the whole process currently serves as a disincentive in terms of encouraging small improvements which is all that a lot of residents can afford. The fees are in addition to the standard BDS permit costs so it's a double whammy in terms of encouraging non-permitted work."

Tony Jones comment on Portland Architecture blog post


"Ask Irvington residents how this all worked out for them... After much acrimony by any who understood all the ramifications...we are now to understand that it is simply that the fees associated with historic design review are too high. That is certainly true. But the greater loss is in the new restrictions against improvements not in keeping with the aesthetics of the Irvingtonians in charge. Want to put up solar panels? Good luck. Want to put up a satellite dish? Better be NO part viewable from the street. Want a new door...new windows...better start saving up because there will be few options."

"HoloceneMan" comment on The Oregonian article

replacing a garage

"As a professional (architect) who does appreciate the need for respectable development, I feel our neighborhood’s decision was a mistake. Irvington neighbors essentially didn't ask enough questions and there was some inaccurate info out there that led many to let it slide. In fact at the time the City apparently tried to dissuade the powers that be from going down the path for reasons that are very apparent now. 

I can share many difficult stories however the most recent example is a friend of mine who simply tried to replace his garage that was literally falling down. It was a flat roof structure that had T111 siding, however it had incorrectly been designated as a contributing structure (by non-professionals). After a lengthy process with modest cost they did get it delisted. This process ended up taking 2 ½ months, which may have been less but I think they (the State) kind of set it aside and forgot about it until the owner questioned the progress. My understanding is that they first had to go through the State (via the City) historic office to get the garage delisted so that it could be demolished. They then submitted a simple, modest gabled structure that was in keeping with the neighborhood character (adjacent property has cheap blue metal sheds that are a huge eye sore, but that's okay because why....?). After what I consider a very lengthy and much more costly review/comment period (one week short of 4 months) they had the permit in hand; it would have been a bit longer if they owner hadn’t paid extra for their overtime. If this project had not been in a HD the permit would have been over-the-counter and much cheaper. 

Through this process, the City representative was asking for things that, if this was one of my professional projects, I would have pushed back hard against. They went from review comments into design direction about detailing that had no impact on aesthetics, and the material of a door, visible only in the back yard, which had to be more expensive/less durable wood. The owner’s design included using carriage doors, which the City made comments as to detailing/inclusion of windows, etc. The historic resource review standards consider plain overhead doors, with little detail, historically accurate. So in essence it seems that if you propose a carriage door solution you get more scrutiny than if you propose an overhead solution with much less aesthetic merit. That is, providing a visually nicer product or design can be an issue, if it’s not determined to be strictly historically accurate. Essentially, you may need to provide a less attractive and less technically-advanced product than what current manufacturing may be able to provide today. I'm not trying to disparage the City, as I'm sure they are doing their best. However, they are forced to review designs based on historical resource review standards generated by others that don’t always seem to make sense in terms of creating buildings with character that will be long-lasting."

Thomas Robbins, AIA, LEED BD+C – Irvington resident since 1997