Frequently Asked Questions

We've grouped the FAQs into several topics:

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Historic Resource Code Project Issues:

  • Question: Is this really a "once in a generation change"?  Answer: Yes, Portland reviews its historic resource code each time it completes its Comprehensive Plan.  The current Comprehensive Plan was adopted last year.  The next one will be in 2035!
     

  • Question: Who at the City produced the proposal?  Answer: Staff from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and the Bureau of Development Services. In addition, after public "listening sessions", a draft was submitted to the Planning and Sustainability Commission in 2020, which made a number of changes to make demolition and de-designation of historic resources easier.
     

  • Question: You say that HRCP doesn't comply with the "Goal 5 Rules".  What are they?  Answer: The State of Oregon is a leader in Land Use Planning.  That leadership is implemented through a set of 18 State-wide "Goals", for which rules have been defined that cities and counties must adhere to.  Among those is the definition of an Urban Growth Boundary.  Goal 5 defines protections for natural and historic resources.  The Goal 5 Rules for protecting historic resources were updated by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission in January, 2017.  One reason for HRCP was to bring City of Portland preservation code in line with Goal 5 Rules.

Submitting Testimony:

  • Question: Which is better, email or oral Zoom testimony?  Answer: You can't beat the power of speaking directly to Council.  But your time is limited to 2 minutes -- you won't have time to say very much.  Backup your Zoom testimony with email messages!
     

  • Question: Can I submit more than one email message?  Answer: Of course.  You can submit one for each theme, or one general one and several for different themes or put your thoughts into one email.  Up to you.
     

  • Question: What is the purpose of submitting testimony through the "Map App"?  Answer: If you want to focus your remarks on one specific area of the city or one historic district, for example, the Map App allows you to do that.  The downside of the Map App is that it may be difficult to use, although you are allowed to upload a PDF containing your remarks.


About Historic Preservation:

  • Question: Don't "preservationists" just want to stop all progress... to freeze Portland in amber?"  Answer: The whole point of historic preservation is to save the great places that we, as a community, value in spite of pressure from development, but that doesn't require that nothing changes.  The first step is to determine what is worth preserving.  Then we can determine how to make those buildings and places functional for the long haul.  Some places, like historic apartment buildings and homes may stay exactly as they are to avoid the displacement and waste of demolition.  Other places will be better off adapted to new uses or to be incorporated into new development that permits their historic value to shine.
     

  • Question: Yes, but Portland's soaring housing costs are driven by the restrictions placed on historic resources.  We have a housing emergency, how do you respond to that?  Answer: All West Coast cities have serious housing costs issues.  But with barely 3% of Portland's total residential housing area covered by historic protections, it is ridiculous to attribute our housing cost challenges to historic preservation.  New construction continues to be built in historic districts and historic buildings continue to be adapted to affordable housing while working with historic protections.  But Portland needs much more housing, and building that housing will require either new land elsewhere or the demolition of existing housing, most of which is NOT subject to historic protections.  We can't resolve the question of why West Coast housing has gotten so expensive nor do we have a silver bullet to fix the problem, but we can categorically say, our affordability problem isn't because of historic restrictions.
     

  • Question: Isn't historic preservation simply a gimmick to keep poorer people out of swank neighborhoods and prevent building multi-family housing in swank neighborhoods?  Answer: Historic protections may limit the alterations to the exterior of historic buildings, but it is the zoning that determines how many housing units may be built inside.  Portland's recently adopted Residential Infill Project greatly expanded already extensive opportunities for adding density in single family neighborhoods.  The option to build Accessory Dwelling Units has been used extensively in Irvington, for example, with nearly 70 new units built since the Irvington Historic District was created.  Of the multiple buildings constructed in Irvington during that period, only one was a single family residence, the remainder being plexes of various sizes.
     

  • Question: What do you say to the charge that Historic Preservation is essentially racist?  Answer: We would agree that racism has permeated many of our institutions and governmental processes.  In the case of Historic Preservation that has been reflected in way too few designations of places important to Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Latinx and other groups as being historic.  But that problem began to be recognized two decades ago.  We have a China Town/Japan Town Historic District that preserves the rich history of those communities.  A massive Multiple Property Nomination has recently been approved defining dozens of sites and buildings of historic value to our African-American neighbors.  That step was many years in the making with hundreds of hours of volunteer time from the community.  We have further opportunities for making up for lost time, and HRCP gives the City the necessary tools.  They include power to expand its Historic Resources Inventory and (with some improvements to its provisions) to facilitate more broad-based nominations of historic buildings and districts.  For more on this subject see our Resources page.