Architectural Heritage Center president Fred Leeson was one of more than 20 people to testify at last week’s Portland City Council hearing regarding amendments to the Building Demolition Code. As not everyone was able to speak, the hearing has been continued to February 12, 2015 at 2 pm. In the meantime, you can read Fred’s testimony below.

On February 12th, the only people who can testify are those who had already signed up for the December hearing and could not be heard. You can write a letter or email and send to the Mayor and City Council and we encourage you to do so.

Here is Fred’s  December 17th testimony to the Portland City Council:

I am Fred Leeson, board president of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation and its Architectural Heritage Center.  We have been an active member of the Portland Coalition for Historic Preservation and provided a venue for many of its meetings.

One of our primary concerns entering this process was a definition of demolition.  Many cities, including Ashland, Oregon, Berkeley and Pasadena, California and Amherst. Massachusetts, define it as a loss of a specified percent of roof structure or exterior walls – commonly 50 to 60 percent.  We regret that DRAC chose NOT to accept this kind of definition as recommended by the Landmarks Commission.

The idea of a 50% or 60% rule was to encompass “virtual demolitions” that left little or nothing standing of the original house.  These will now be captured by the “Major Remodel” category, a new category included in this package.  At first, it seems to be a distinction without a difference, since the same 35 delay would apply to a demolition as well as to a major remodel.

So why is the major remodel in there?  I suspect there is some sort of “gamesmanship” involved that we will discover over time.  If the council eventually adopts a 120-day demolition delay, as we hope the council will, the potential for fudging becomes apparent. Leaving a chimney or a single door standing would be a “major remodel” rather than a demolition.  The loophole would be almost big enough to drive a bulldozer through.   I think there are grounds for skepticism whenever any particular industry writes its own regulations.

We hope that BDS will publish permit information on line so that we can track demolition and major remodels in coming months.  Tracking those statistics will help us determine how effective the changes have been and help us monitor the application of the major remodel category.

Not every house should be saved.  But when the exceptions come along, we need tools to allow opportunities to protect them.  Once they are gone…they are gone… along with the adverse impacts on sustainability, moderate-income housing, neighborhood compatibility and sense of place.