Misconceptions About the Irvington Historic District

The following assertions were made on a website promoted by a committee of neighbors that filed a request with the State of Oregon in December 2014 for reducing the size of the Irvington Historic District. All of these assertions are either false or misleading.

They contend that the Irvington Historic District:

  • Was brought about through a process that did not require the approval of property owners or of the Alameda Neighborhood Association.

o FACT: The National Register Nomination process includes a lengthy period during which property owners may object to a nomination by filing a notarized letter with the State Historic Preservation Office. During this period, the contact information for filing objections was published, and meetings were held with notary public staff on hand to notarize letters of objection on the spot. During this period also, both the Irvington Community Association and by the City Bureau of Planning & Sustainability notified the Alameda Neighborhood Association of the planned nomination , and asked for their comment, which was never provided. However, the Federal nomination rules do not require agreement by neighborhood associations. Ultimately only 78 letters of objection were received out of over 3000 property owners.

  • Rezoned your property without your permission.

o FACT: No changes to zoning were applied. For example, if you have a property in an R1 zone, which allows up to 5 housing units on one 5000 square foot lot, you still have the right to have that many units on the property.

  • Requires Historic Design Review, with fees and delays, and possible rejection, for almost any alteration to the exterior of your home.

o FACT: Historic Resource Review is required for many exterior changes, however as of May of 2013 (before this committee’s statement was published), the City changed the rules so that common maintenance and repair work is completely exempted from HRR, along with such common alterations as adding storm windows, re-roofing, and so on. Many property owners consider Historic Resource Review an important protection of their property values.

  • Subjects your planned alterations to, subjective, “historic”, “advisory” judgments made by the Irvington Historic Preservation Committee and the Portland Bureau of Development Services.

o FACT: The Portland Bureau of Development Services conducts Historic Resource Review when it is required for exterior alterations. The Irvington Community Association’s Land Use Committee has taken on the responsibility to provide advice and guidance to property owners to ease their way through Historic Resource Review, based on their experience with hundreds of Historic Resource Review cases. It is true that the ICA (and the Alameda Neighborhood Association, the Grant Park Neighborhood, and the Sabin Community Association in their respective overlap areas) have the right to comment on HRR applications, but the vast majority of applications reviewed by the ICA Land Use Committee are approved with little or no comment. The Alameda Neighborhood Association’s Land Use Committee was asked if they wanted to participate in assisting home owners in the overlap area with the HRR process, and they declined to provide any such assistance. On occasion the Sabin Community Association does participate in the HRR process and provide comments to BDS.

  • Alters the marketability of your home for future sale.

o FACT: The marketability and price of homes in Irvington has been affected by the Historic District, but in positive ways for the current owners. According to Zillow.com, one of the leading housing price sites, Irvington property values have risen 9% points faster in the last 4 years than Laurelhurst, which has no historic district protections and a housing stock of similar age and quality.

  • Adversely affects affordability for property owners and tenants.

o FACT: Portland’s housing prices are rising faster than incomes and faster than prices in most metro areas in the US. There is much debate as to the cause of the rapidly rising prices. Some blame an influx of outsiders, with large amounts of home equity built up elsewhere, who are buying up the houses. Whatever the reason, the affordability problem in terms of housing prices and rents is a citywide one, and not specifically the result of the Historic District.

  •  Does not automatically or permanently reduce property taxes.

o FACT: No argument was ever made that property taxes would be reduced automatically by the Historic District. However, property owners who invest in rehabilitation of their property (even including expansion) may qualify for the Oregon Special Assessment. There is no limit on the number of properties which may apply for this program, and the minimum investment threshold is modest. Properties under the Special Assessment enjoy a freeze on the assessed value of their property for 10 years. While there are nominal limits to the amount property tax valuations may increase under Measures 47, 50 and others, those limits do not apply when significant investment in rehabilitation is made to the building. Significant tax savings are possible depending on a property owner’s individual circumstances.

  • Does not prevent demolition or “upsizing” of existing homes.

o FACT: It is virtually impossible to obtain approval for demolition of a “contributing”, e.g. historically significant, property in a Historic District in Portland. Only one such demolition has occurred in the last 10 years. By contrast there were 370 single family house demolitions in Portland in 2014 outside of Historic Districts. This number does not include the dozens of major remodels that were virtual demolitions removing all but a very small bit of the original home. Approximately 89% of all single family homes in the Irvington Historic District are listed as contributing. Non-contributing properties may be demolished, but the replacement structure must go through a rigorous Historic Resource Review process. “Upsizing” in the sense of adding another story or a massive increase in size of the home is unlikely to be allowed, at least for contributing properties, as there are clear requirements that new construction must be compatible in terms of “scale and massing”. Even in the case of non-contributing properties, expansions must be compatible in scale and massing with the immediate neighbors.

  • Does not prevent construction of tall, bulky homes.

o FACT: Tall, bulky homes may be allowed as infill in Irvington areas where historic houses already are “tall and bulky”. In other words, the Historic Resource Review requirements ensure that homes must be compatible with their surroundings, which means primarily with the immediate neighboring buildings. It is reasonable to allow a large home on a block of other large homes, but a massive house in a block of smaller bungalows would be very unlikely to pass Historic Resource Review.

  • Discourages or prevents some upgrades for energy efficiency.

o FACT: All Irvington homes are eligible for Oregon’s Clean Energy Works program to help home owners determine the best strategies for improving energy efficiency. The vast majority of improvements, like in-wall and attic insulation, higher efficiency furnaces and air conditioning, and the like, are not restricted in any way. The most common area of concern is in the case of windows. The ICA has worked with the Architectural Heritage Center to publish a guide-book on window weatherization, which explains how energy efficiency can be improved without removal of the beautiful, historic, easily reparable windows that grace so many of our homes. The reality is that the much-sought-after double glazing provided by brand new windows provides only a small part of the benefit from upgraded windows. Historic windows, economically rehabilitated to fit properly, seal air infiltration paths, and properly fitted with either exterior or interior storm windows (neither of which require HRR), can be as efficient as new windows – and more efficient than new windows that are installed without improvements in air infiltration around their frames.

February 2015