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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.

Design guideline update coming to the South Portland Historic District

Metro grant will fund needed refresh of Portland’s oldest set of design guidelines

The City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability will work with community partners over the next 18 months to update the design guidelines that apply to alterations, additions, and new construction in the South Portland Historic District. The guideline update will be made possible by a Metro 2040 Planning and Development grant, which will support a variety of land use plans and community development projects in 2019-20. The plans will support the growth of complete and inclusive communities throughout the Southwest Corridor. The updated historic district design guidelines will be reviewed at public hearings before the Historic Landmarks Commission and City Council before adoption in early 2020.

Corkish Apartments, an 1890 building in the South Portland Historic District.

Corkish Apartments, an 1890 building in the South Portland Historic District.


What are design guidelines?

Design guidelines provide clarity to property owners, designers, architects, and developers on the expected architectural character of alterations, additions, and new construction in historic districts and design overlay zones. For historic districts, design guidelines are land use approval criteria that must be met for any activity that is subject to City of Portland Historic Resource Review. Although not all historic districts have district-specific design guidelines, Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan provides policy direction for the development of district-specific guidelines tailored to the unique physical attributes of each historic district. A recently-adopted example is the Skidmore-Old Town Historic District Design Guidelines.

The South Portland Historic District

In 1977, the Portland City Council created the Lair Hill Conservation District to “encourage the conservation and maintenance of the historical and architectural integrity of the district.” In 1998, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability expanded the boundaries and elevated the designation type of the conservation district to become the South Portland Historic District. According to the historic district nomination form, South Portland is “locally significant under [National Register of Historic Places] Criterion A as a former gateway for ethnic groups arriving in the city of Portland, representing, in particular, Jewish and Italian immigrants. It also meets [National Register of Historic Places] Criterion C as a neighborhood that exemplifies the characteristics of modest Victorian style architecture.” The 49-acre district includes approximately 175 ‘contributing’ historic buildings.

The Portland City Council adopted design guidelines for the Lair Hill Conservation District in 1980. While the 1980 guidelines are still used as approval criteria, they only apply to the geography of the former (and smaller) conservation district, do not represent modern best practice for City of Portland design guidelines, and lack context and criteria related to the district’s multi-ethnic historic significance. The design guideline update will build upon the 1980 guidelines and 1998 historic district nomination to provide greater historic resource protection and development clarity in the South Portland Historic District prior to possible future construction of light rail through the district.

Cover of the Lair Hill Conservation Dist Guidelines

An excerpt from the conservation district design guidelines. 


Seeking professional services from historic preservation consultants

Historic preservation and urban design consultants are invited to submit bids to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to bring outside professional expertise to the design guideline project. Because of limited staff capacity and the urgency of using grant funds, outside consultant participation will assist in drafting written content and graphic elements for inclusion in the design guideline document. Bids for professional services are due January 17, 2019 through the City of Portland’s vendor portal.

Get involved in a new community workgroup

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability will assemble a community work group to assist in the development of the South Portland Historic District design guidelines. Representatives from the Bureau of Development Services, Historic Landmarks Commission, South Portland neighborhood, and other interested parties will inform City staff and professional consultants as decisions are made regarding contextual information and approval criteria to include in the design guidelines. Regardless of your expertise with historic preservation or the South Portland Historic District, if you’re interested in participating in the work group, please send an email to Historic Resources Program Manager Brandon Spencer-Hartle at by February 14, 2019.

Image of 1913 building in S. Portland 

Vance Land Company Warehouse, a 1913 building in the South Portland Historic District.

Historic resource survey coming to Montavilla

Documentation effort could provide the first update to the Historic Resource Inventory (HRI) since 1984

The City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) has partnered with the University of Oregon Historic Preservation Program to conduct a historic resource survey in the Montavilla “Main Street” area. The historic resource survey will document the exterior architectural features of buildings and collect historical information on the commercial, social, and cultural history of the SE Stark/Washington Street corridor between approximately SE 75th and SE 85th Avenues.

After the on-the-ground building documentation and archival research is complete, survey results will be compiled in a published report that includes baseline historical information on each building within the study area. The report will also include a list of buildings determined eligible for inclusion on the citywide Historic Resources Inventory (HRI).

SE Stark Street in 1939. City of Portland photo, A2005-001

The 1948 Academy Theater is a prominent building in the study area. Photo courtesy Michael Molinaro.

What’s a historic resource survey? 

Historic resource surveys are projects that collect information on the history of geographic areas, cultural patterns, and specific buildings for broad public use in understanding the significance of historic places. Surveys include both architectural descriptions of individual properties and context statements on broad historical themes present in the area.

Survey reports evaluate surveyed resources for historic significance and provide recommendations for future additions to the HRI. The HRI is a citywide register of properties that have been evaluated for historic significance, but have not been conveyed protections through a landmark or district designation. Although the HRI has not been updated since 1984, recent changes in State administrative rules being codified through the Historic Resources Code Project will allow additional resources to be included on the HRI in the near future. Significant historic resources identified through the Montavilla survey could be considered for inclusion on the HRI as early as late 2019. Any proposal to further designate (and protect) a specific building as a Historic or Conservation Landmark would necessitate a public hearing and, under current Oregon law, the written consent of the property owner.

Learn more and get involved

The public is invited to attend an information session being held during the Montavilla Neighborhood Association’s monthly meeting on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Montavilla United Methodist Church, 232 SE 80th Avenue. Representatives from BPS will share an overview of the survey process, invite submissions of historical information, and answer questions.

For those that cannot make it to the meeting, the project team is interested in hearing from people with family stories or archival information related to the history of the study area. Historic photos, articles, blueprints, and other materials are useful resources in evaluating the historic significance of properties within a survey area. If you have historical information about people, businesses, organizations, buildings, or events in the Montavilla Main Street area, the project team is interested in hearing from you. Submissions of information can be sent to

Academy Theater

SE Stark Street in 1939. City of Portland photo, A2005-001.

Next Steps

City of Portland staff, University of Oregon students, and technical experts from Architectural Resources Group will document the architectural features of existing buildings during the winter months. Archival research and significance evaluations will occur in the spring and early summer, with the survey report expected to be released in July 2019. Possible inclusion of specific properties on the HRI would occur after the completion of the survey report and adoption of the Historic Resources Code Project.

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.

BPS commissions report on updating the citywide Historic Resource Inventory

Consultant report provides background and actionable recommendations for updating Portland’s 34-year-old HRI

In the early 1980s, the City of Portland advanced an ambitious project to survey thousands of potential historic resources across the city. After four years of professional and volunteer effort, in 1984 approximately 5,000 documented properties were adopted onto the resulting Historic Resource Inventory (HRI), a catalog of Portland’s most important architectural, cultural, and historic places. Listing on the HRI honored the significance of certain historic resources and prioritized them for possible future landmark designation.

At the time of its completion in 1984, the HRI was celebrated as a forward-thinking planning tool that documented the places that were most historically significant to Portlanders at the time. However, with the passing of time the inventory has become less geographically comprehensive and representative of the city’s different communities than it once was. Specifically, the annexation of East Portland (little of which was within the city boundary in the early 1980s), advances in national best practice, and a lack of regular additions to the inventory have diminished the HRI’s utility for research and planning. A newly released report provides the City with direction for how to overcome these shortcomings and expand the HRI in the years ahead.

State policy changes and report recommendations provide framework for future inventory work

In response to requests from the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission to update the HRI, BPS recently engaged in several State policy initiatives to pave the way for future inventory work. Among them, in 2016 the Oregon Supreme Court clarified the role of owner consent in landmark designation, and, in 2017, the Land Conservation and Development Commission amended administrative rules to clarify processes for updating historic resource inventories. In light of these changes, BPS engaged a consultant team to study local, regional, and national best practices in survey and inventory and make recommendations for updating Portland’s HRI.

Photo of the Horsehoe House  Report cover

The 1984 HRI documented 5,000 resources, including this 1890 charmer in the Woodlawn Conservation District. A new report provides recommendations for how the City can advance an update to the HRI in the years ahead.

The consultant team’s report offers 14 distinct recommendations for arriving at a more comprehensive, equitable, and useful citywide inventory of significant historic resources. The report, which is available for download as a PDF, will be presented to the Historic Landmarks Commission on March 12, 2018. BPS staff have begun early implementation of several of the report’s recommendations.

Early implementation of recommendations focuses on digital webmap, social media, zoning code

In 2017, student interns Caity Ewers and Lauren Everett digitized the City’s paper historic resource records, reconciled changes that have occurred since the 1984 survey was conducted, and integrated the resultant data into a historic resources webmap. Following the digitization effort, BPS created the Instagram account @Portland1984 to share stories behind some of the more interesting HRI resources. These efforts improved the utility of the City’s previously-outdated historic resources database and strengthened the foundation for future survey, inventory, and webmap projects.


One of the report’s 14 recommendations is to develop an enhanced database and mapping application for historic resources. A historic resources webmap was developed in 2017 to provide access to existing records while a more functional mapping application is being developed by BPS.

In addition to digitizing existing records, in late 2017 BPS launched the Historic Resources Code Project (HRCP) to improve the City’s inventory, designation, and protection programs for historic resources. Most relevant to Portland’s aging HRI, the project will incorporate recent changes in State administrative rules and codify a process for adopting newly-surveyed properties onto the HRI, changes which are recommended by report authors.

Although BPS has begun implementation of several report recommendations, advancing on-the-ground survey of historic resources will require the City to secure new sources of funding. Towards that end, BPS has applied for a State Historic Preservation Office grant and is requesting that City Council support a one-time budget add package to conduct pilot survey and inventory work in 2018 and 2019.

BPS looks forward to working with the Historic Landmarks Commission, City Council, and the broader community to advance the recommendations provided by report authors to create a more inclusive, diverse, and accessible HRI in the years ahead.