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Proposed historic resource code amendments released for public review

Discussion draft of code amendments addresses the inventory, designation and protection of historic resources; public invited to give feedback on proposals by April 1.

Marie and Ernest Thomas HousePortland’s historic buildings and other resources are the subject of a Discussion Draft of potential changes to the zoning code. Historic resources aren’t just old buildings but bridges, cemeteries and landscapes. Within the city limits, there are roughly 10,000 of them that are subject to protections. And that number will grow as more buildings reach the 50-year mark. 

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has released a Discussion Draft of proposed zoning code amendments that would change the City of Portland’s rules for inventorying, designating and protecting historic resources. The proposals are based on feedback staff received during an earlier concept development phase that resulted in 3,442 unique comments from the public.

Read the staff report and proposed zoning code changes, as well as summary documents.

Portlanders are invited to give feedback on the proposals through April 1, 2019. Send comments to

Proposal themes
The Historic Resources Code Project was initiated in late 2017 to improve Portland’s historic preservation programs. The project’s overarching goal is to better align procedures and regulations with the 2035 Comprehensive Plan's guiding policies for historic resources.

The Neighborhood House Historic LandmarkThe draft code amendments propose important changes to the rules and procedures for inventorying significant historic resources, designating new landmarks and districts, and protecting designated historic resources. Code amendments fall into 10 general themes:

1. Expand the Historic Resource Inventory.
2. Establish procedures for adding and removing significant resources from the Historic Resource Inventory.

3. Refine the specifics of the existing two-tier protection system:
   a. Historic Landmarks and Districts.
   b. Conservation Landmarks and Districts.
4. Incorporate historic preservation best practice into the designation process.
5. Lower the owner-consent thresholds for local historic resource designations.

A house in the Woodlawn Conservation DistrictProtection
6. Align protections for future National Register listings with State regulations.
7. Increase the demolition protections that apply to locally-designated historic resources.
8. Refine the design protections that apply to designated historic resources.
9. Increase incentives for reuse and rehabilitation.

10. Revise Historic Landmarks Commission powers and duties.

Learn more and provide feedback
Project staff will offer a series of public events in February and March to share information with community members and answer their questions about the proposals. Portlanders and historic building enthusiasts can learn more and talk with staff at an upcoming open house.  

Historic Resources Code Project Discussion Draft Kickoff Open House
February 19, 2019, 5:30 – 7 p.m.
Architectural Heritage Center
701 SE Grand Avenue
TriMet: Lines 6, 15, and Portland Streetcar

See other public events on the Historic Resources Code Project calendar.

To review proposed code language and supplemental summaries of the proposals, please visit the project document library.

Have questions or feedback?
Questions and written feedback can be directed to Brandon Spencer-Hartle, Historic Resources Program Manager, at 503-823-4641 or Please submit feedback by April 1, 2019. It’s helpful to include a bulleted list of specific concepts and/or code citations when submitting written comments.

Next steps
Following the comment period, staff will incorporate feedback into the next draft of the zoning code changes (the Proposed Draft), likely released in summer 2019. The Proposed Draft will go to the Planning and Sustainability Commission for public hearings and amendments before a Recommended Draft goes to City Council. City Council will hold public hearings in late 2019 before adopting code amendments.

Public feedback incorporated into historic resources code concepts

Summary of public feedback being incorporated into Historic Resources Code Project proposals; public draft of zoning code proposals to be released in October

Initiated in late 2017, the Historic Resources Code Project (HRCP) is a zoning code project that will make changes to how the City of Portland identifies, designates, and protects historic resources. To better align the City’s historic preservation programs with other community goals, the HRCP will analyze deficiencies in Portland’s existing programs and propose zoning code changes addressing the procedures, thresholds, and incentives that apply to inventoried and designated historic resources.

In drafting these changes to existing zoning code, the HRCP will incorporate national best practices, feedback from Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Bureau of Development Services staff, and concepts proposed by community members. An initial open comment period spanned November 2017 through February 2018. Collected public comments, which are summarized below, have informed the development of an initial Discussion Draft of zoning code proposals. The Discussion Draft will be released for public review in October 2018.

Public Meeting at Library A Historic Resources Code Project Roundtable. Image Courtesy Addam Goard.


Overview of Outreach

During the initial concept development period, the public were afforded a variety of opportunities to provide project feedback. Four community roundtables and two informal drop-in sessions were held on weeknights in various locations around Portland, with the intention of making these events accessible to a wide range of community members in different geographical areas. An online survey was made available for the entire comment period, and paper versions of the same were supplied at all project events. The public were also invited to connect with project staff directly by emailing concepts to

Opportunities to comment were advertised through several channels. The HRCP website posted notice of each community roundtable and provided access to the online survey. Roundtables were further advertised on the Historic Resources Program Instagram account, @portland1984, one week prior to each event. Project updates, including the survey link, were distributed by email to the project mailing list of over 680 addresses. HRCP notices were also featured in Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Bureau of Development Services e-newsletters.

Public Engagement and Comments Received

During the three-month open public comment period, 440 Portlanders submitted 3,442 unique comments through online and paper survey forms. Survey questions, while organized by theme, were largely open-ended to allow for broad feedback during this exploratory phase. City staff transcribed all handwritten forms and reviewed each online submission, extracting potential concepts for consideration and refinement by the project team. Five individuals and two organizations sent comments directly to the Historic Resources Program; these were similarly reviewed by City staff.

Also during the open comment period, about 200 participants attended the four community roundtables and two drop-in sessions. These events provided an opportunity for group discussion and direct interaction with the project team. A summary of each community roundtable, including a transcript of all staff notes and participant comments, can be found on the HRCP blog.

Key Issues Raised in Public Comments

Through survey responses, emailed concepts, and direct interaction at roundtable and drop-in events, staff collected several thousand public comments during the concept development period. Comments addressed a range of topics, but many were focused on the Historic Resource Inventory, cultural resources, housing density and affordability, historic district designations, Historic Resource Review, and demolition protections for designated landmarks and districts. 

Historic Resource Inventory

The second Historic Resources Code Project roundtable, “New Tools for Inventorying and Adapting Historic Resources,” and several survey questions addressed the utility and content of a citywide Historic Resource Inventory. Many commenters asserted that a publicly-accessible inventory would be a useful research tool for academics, homeowners, and City staff alike. Others expressed concern with the inventory process, primarily around the topic of owner consent. When asked whether owner consent should be required for listing a property in an informational inventory of historic resources, 58% of online survey respondents answered “no,” 35 percent answered “yes,” and 7 percent were unsure. Specific comments related to the inventory listing process included:

  • No, owner consent should not be required for listing. Historic buildings are a community and city-wide resource and asset, not just [an asset to] the current owners.
  • No, owner notification would be nice, but owner consent should not be required. Significance does not depend on the current owner's views regarding preservation.
  • Yes, unless there are no adverse economic or damaging effects on an owner.
  • Owners should have the opportunity to consent prior to the listing in some capacity.
  • Depends on if listing it limits how an owner can use the property.

Cultural Significance and Historic Resources

In both survey and roundtable responses, the public expressed a strong interest in better identifying and protecting resources with cultural and social significance. Some commenters suggested the creation of new designation types, such as cultural or thematic districts, in which regulations are carefully tailored to address only the social or cultural attributes of the resource. Specific comments included:

  • Protecting culturally, if not architecturally, significant neighborhoods can be designated a public good and standards developed to determine eligibility.
  • Ethnic and cultural resources might be deemed historic because of their use + the accompanying stories.
  • Include cultural and ethnic criteria for conservation designation.
  • Cultural resources could be protected via cultural districts.
  • We should identify similar ethnic and cultural designations and find ways to promote and lee rare communities, even if they have already been destroyed.  For example, legacy African American communities in Portland could be celebrated by identifying locations of key buildings (even if the originals have been destroyed).

An 1884 duplex in the Eliot Conservation District

An 1884 duplex in the Eliot Conservation District

Density and Affordability

Several commenters expressed concern about real and/or perceived conflicts between historic designation and housing affordability and opportunity. Some proposed disallowing future historic districts. Others suggested ways to reconcile the conflict, such as by facilitating and incentivizing internal conversions and reducing parking requirements in historic districts, especially where resources are near a transit corridor. Specific comments included:

  • Designation of historic landmarks and districts should not restrict the creation of new housing (ADUs, internal subdivisions, and at least a review of demolition and replacement).
  • Demolition and design protections should be loosened to allow Portland to accommodate our housing needs. 
  • Allow for more ADU/internal divisions of historic single family homes.
  • Get rid of parking requirements.
  • Designate only individual properties, not districts. For instance, in a "district" such as Laurelhurst, it may suit to pick out a few significant buildings, which are not within a 1/2 mile radius of a light-rail station, so that more housing can be constructed in that radius without harming designated resources.

Commercial buildings in the Woodlawn District

Commercial buildings in the locally-designated Woodlawn Conservation District

Historic District Designations

Historic district designation proved to be a divisive issue among commenters. All historic districts created in Portland since 1993 have been designated at the federal level as National Register Historic Districts; the HRCP intends to create and/or refine local alternatives to the National Register. Many commenters showed interest in local historic district designations that may be more flexible in terms of listing criteria and associated protections. Other respondents proposed disallowing district designation at the local level, limiting the number of properties included in potential districts, and/or prohibiting the designation of districts near transit. Still others were supportive of existing district listings and protections, responding that district designation is the most effective tool to protect the integrity of historic neighborhoods. Additionally, many commenters felt that a local district designation should be supported by property owners through an affirmative process where each property owner may cast a vote for the designation. Specific comments included:

  • Another way to lend legitimacy to historic preservation efforts is to place legal limits on their density: no more than X structures per square mile.
  • No districts should be formed in areas near high-quality transit service, such as frequent service bus lines or Light Rail. In these close-to-transit locations, individual Landmarks can be considered, but not a District.
  • Resources in a group such as a district or neighborhood are more significant that individual ones. There should be special attention payed to mixed use or commercial preservation as it plays heavily into profitability of a commercial zone by defining and preserving a City's character.
  • Change historic designation for neighborhoods to require affirmative vote of impacted homeowners.
  • Not all needs to be saved but I believe it is important to protect what has been designated and add key neighborhoods to capture the flavor.

Historic Resource Review

Many commenters held conflicting opinions about the relevance and effectiveness of Historic Resource Review; while some believed that existing protections are too restrictive, others felt that they may be too lax. Some suggested that district-specific guidelines might be the most effective way to preserve the historic character of a designated area. Of the many suggested regulations and exemptions concerning alterations to historic resources, numerous commenters expressed a desire to exempt solar panels and seismic straps from Historic Resource Review. Others requested greater flexibility for window replacement and alterations and additions not visible from the public right-of-way. Specific comments included:

  • Discretionary design standards particular to each district should apply to historic districts. Design standards could be less restrictive for conservation districts.
  • The city should develop clear, easy-to-understand design guidelines.  It may make sense to develop district-specific guidelines.    
  • I think there should be more flexibility with solar panels for one.  They are not permanent to the house and could be removed.
  • We recommend that installation of these brackets for seismic tie-down purposes be exempt for all structures subject to HRR, provided that the individual brackets must be less than 0.5 square feet each.
  • Alterations that still maintain basic character of the house should be exempt. Changing windows, roof, additions to back of house or second story could be exempt.

Demolition Protections

The demolition of Portland’s historic resources was of concern to many commenters. In roundtable events and through survey responses, many members of the public expressed a fear that existing demolition protections are allowing for widespread loss of resources. These commenters frequently advocated for increased demolition delay periods and/or expanded demolition review programs. Others felt that the existing demolition protections are unnecessarily restrictive and asked that demolition review be relaxed. Specific comments included:

  • Demolitions should be a last resort and only acceptable where there are clear and provable issues of safety.
  • Strengthen the demolition review process for all historic buildings, but especially historic and conservation landmarks, and extend the review period.
  • Demolition delays are nothing. They do not prevent demolitions, as we've seen repeatedly.
  • There should be demo prohibitions on certain highly significant resources. Then there should be long demo delays for other resources....6 months to a year.
  • I disagree with the use of demolition and design protections. They are being used to mark off certain neighborhoods from the issues faced by the city as a whole.

Historic building on N. Russel St. in Portland

The Smithson & McKay Brothers Block, a Historic Landmark in North Portland.

Additional Issues

While these six key issues represent the majority of collected commentary, they do not fully express the diversity of feedback gathered by HRCP staff. For instance, several commenters suggested that the City institute a plaque program or design walking tours to familiarize the public with Portland’s historic resources. Many others expressed interest in the National Register of Historic Places designation process and the State of Oregon’s Goal 5 land use protections that apply to National Register listings. These comments will be considered by staff, acknowledging that the Portland Zoning Code cannot nullify or amend State or Federal regulations pertaining to National Register resources.

To provide a complete record of material received during this initial open comment period, all paper forms, online forms, and emails from organizations and individuals (personal information redacted) have been compiled and are available as PDF files for public review.

Next Steps

BPS and BDS staff began refining concepts collected during the open comment period in March 2018. Staff will internally review draft zoning code proposals in late August and early September 2018. A public Discussion Draft of the zoning code will be released in October 2018.

Following the release of the Discussion Draft, the public will be invited to provide comment through a second series of stakeholder roundtables. These events will be announced on the HRCP webpage, with reminders sent to the Historic Resources Program email list. An online survey with questions targeted to specific concepts will be featured on the project website when the Discussion Draft is released. Feedback received on the Discussion Draft will then be considered by staff, with a revised Proposed Draft Zoning Code released in the winter.

The public will then be invited to submit formal testimony on the Proposed Draft to the Planning and Sustainability Commission, in writing or in person at one or more public hearings. After reviewing public testimony, the Planning and Sustainability Commission may amend the Proposed Draft before making a recommendation to Portland City Council. City Council will hold an additional public hearing(s) to take formal testimony on this Recommended Draft. It is expected that City Council will vote to adopt the final zoning code changes in mid-2019.

Portlanders gather to discuss designation options for Historic Resources Code Project

Participants discussed options for designating and protecting local historic and conservation districts at the last of four initial project roundtables.

On Feb. 6, 2018, the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability held its fourth public roundtable for the Historic Resources Code Project (HRCP). The last of the HRCP’s initial input sessions, this event asked participants to develop and consider options for local historic district designation. Although no local historic or conservation district has been created in Portland since the early 1990s, new guidance from the State now allows cities to develop local alternatives to National Register designation.

Approximately 40 Portlanders gathered at the North Portland Library to discuss options for the designation process and regulatory framework that might characterize a new program for local historic resource designation. Conversations revealed an interest in community-initiated nominations, designation by an affirmative majority vote of property owners, and district-specific design guidelines or standards. A summary of the event, including participants’ transcribed comments, is now available.

North Portland Library

The venue for the Feb. 6 roundtable was the North Portland Library, a 1912 building built in the Jacobethan style. The library was identified in the 1984 Historic Resources Inventory as an architecturally significant building.

Concepts collected at the HRCP’s first four roundtables will inform planning staff in their development of zoning code language for the inventory, designation, and protection of historic resources. While all concept development roundtables have now been completed, comments will continue to be accepted until Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, after which time City staff will begin formulating code concepts. If you were unable to attend a public roundtable or would like to contribute further, please consider completing the project’s online survey. Interested persons are also invited to join the historic resources program email list for regular project updates, including opportunities to provide comment on the discussion draft zoning code when it is released in the spring.

February 6 event

Approximately 40 Portlanders attended the fourth Historic Resources Code Project roundtable. Image courtesy Addam Goard. 

Historic Resources Code Project holds third public roundtable

Participants discussed all aspects of the designation and protection of National Register historic districts, including demolitions, new construction and consistency with community values.

On Wednesday, Jan. 24,2018, the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability held a third community roundtable for the Historic Resources Code Project (HRCP) at Taborspace, an event venue in the 1910 Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church. Approximately 60 participants gathered to discuss Portland’s approach to protecting National Register historic districts, detailing perceived successes and failures of current processes related to designation and regulation. Conversations reflected the diverse interests of event attendees and resulted in varied, thoughtful feedback to staff are included in a summary of the events, including participants’ transcribed comments.

Recommendations and insights collected at the Jan. 24 roundtable will form a foundation for the fourth and final HRCP initial input session, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, at the North Portland Library. This roundtable will explore local designation as an alternative to National Register historic district designation and as a tool that may better serve some of Portland’s historic resources. If you are unable to attend the event, please consider submitting your comments via the project’s online survey.

For more information about the HRCP, visit the project website or contact project manager Brandon Spencer-Hartle at Interested parties are also invited to join the historic resources program email list for project updates, including information about future roundtables.

Approximately 60 Portlanders shared feedback on “what’s working and what’s not in Portland’s historic districts” at the Jan. 24 roundtable. Image courtesy Addam Goard. 

Participants provided feedback on a variety of historic district issues, including management of alterations and additions

Historic Resources Code Project holds second public roundtable

Participants discussed the purpose of a citywide Historic Resource Inventory and identified opportunities to encourage rehabilitation and reuse.

Example of Italianate-style architecture

The venue for the January 11 roundtable, the 1883 West Block, was included in the 1984 Historic Resource Inventory for its Italianate-style architecture.

On Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability held a second community roundtable for the Historic Resources Code Project (HRCP) at the Architectural Heritage Center in the East Portland/Grand Avenue Historic District. The event sought public input on “inventorying and adapting historic resources,” asking the approximately 40 participants to share perspectives on how best the City might identify and evaluate potentially significant historic resources and encourage the rehabilitation and reuse of significant historic resources through the zoning code. Topics discussed in participant breakout sessions included:

  • Expanding the Historic Resource Inventory to include more diverse types of historic resources.
  • The tension between having a Historic Resources Inventory that is too broad or too narrow.
  • The opportunities and challenges of soliciting crowdsourced information on historic resources.
  • Parking and use flexibility for designated historic resources.
  • Opportunities to increase market-rate and affordable housing production in conjunction with historic preservation.

Read a summary of the event for more information.

The suggestions and insights collected at the January 11 event will inform zoning code concepts developed by the Bureau of Planning and sustainability over the next several months. The next roundtable, “What’s Working and What’s Not in Portland’s Historic Districts,” will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, at Taborspace. If you are unable to attend an upcoming roundtable session, please consider taking the project’s online survey.

For more information about the HRCP, visit the project website or contact project manager Brandon Spencer-Hartle at Interested parties are also encouraged to join the historic resources program email list for project updates, including information about future opportunities for public involvement.

picture of McDonalds from 1963

Few properties east of 82nd Avenue were included in the 1984 Historic Resource Inventory. This 1963 McDonald’s, located at 9100 SE Powell Blvd, was used as a conversation starter for discussions related to updating the Inventory.