Is Your Home a Historic Place? Understanding Portland’s Historic Designations
Did you know that Portland has 15 areas that are designated historic districts? That there are 1900 homes and buildings in Oregon that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (and if you include homes listed in a historic district that total is over 12,000)? There are also 6 neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland that are listed as “conservation districts.”
What does it mean for your home to have one of these designations? How will it impact your ability to maintain your home over time?
Every city handles review differently, but here are a few benefits and costs of each designation to consider:
National Register of Historic Places
(The Barnes Mansion, a home on the National Register of Historic Places in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood, received a respectful kitchen renovation by Arciform. Although the majority of the renovation was interior and not subject to Historic Review, a small range hood vent needed to pierce the exterior fabric of the building, triggering a submission of the project for Historic Review to ensure the vent cover would meet historic preservation guidelines.)
The National Register of Historic Places is an honorary designation awarded by the National Park Service. Often the structure will have a plaque announcing its designation though these are not mandatory.
Benefits: Owners of listed properties can enjoy up to a 20% tax investment credit and straight-line depreciation period of 27.5 years on properties that qualify. There are federal and state grant programs that can be applied for to mitigate the costs of restoring and maintaining the property. Owner occupied properties can qualify for a special assessment of Historic Property that will yield 10 years property tax free.There are also some exceptions and alternatives to the International Building Code that are allowed during renovation of National Register properties.
Costs: Being listed on the National Register does not directly protect the building from demolition or alterations, unless federal or state grant funding is received. Once listed, your city can stop demolition or review changes to the property if they have a local preservation ordinance.
If federal or state grants are received for restoration and rehabilitation, specific rules will be enforced for what kinds of restoration activity can be undertaken with those funds, which can add to the cost of that work. These restrictions will typically be aimed at preserving the existing wood, metal and other historic materials as well as the architectural details relevant to the period of the building.
Did you know? Though most Portland National Register residences are large historic homes in Irvington, the Alphabet District and select inner Portland neighborhoods (like the Barnes Mansion shown above), over a dozen apartment and condo buildings in NW Portland are listed on the National Register as well. Irvington is the largest historic district in Oregon.
(This Irvington project by Arciform included a kitchen renovation and the creation of an attic master suite. Because this project was completed prior to the district’s designation as historic, the attic egress window that was replaced in the project did not need to undergo the Historic Review process. Any future renovations that include the home’s exterior will be subject to review.)
If you live in Ladd’s Addition, Irvington, Buckman or one of the 12 other protected neighborhoods in Portland, your home is designated part of a Historic District. This is a local designation recognized by the City of Portland. All of Portland’s historic districts also happen to be listed as National Register districts. To be designated a “historic district” in Portland, every homeowner in the affected area has to support the designation in writing at the time the designation is awarded, and for good reason: once enacted, the historic district comes with very specific restrictions on how the homes can be maintained and modified. To be designated a Historic District on the National Register, more than 50% of owners in the district need to support the designation.
It has huge benefits and some important costs.
Benefits: The most important benefit is that home values in historic districts tend to stay stable and increase over time and infill development is prevented, preserving the character of the neighborhood and the property values of homes and structures within that neighborhood.
Costs: Any renovation that will affect exterior elements of the home visible by neighbors or from the street must pass a thorough Historic Review process designed to prevent alterations of the home’s historic material and design. This particularly includes alterations to the home’s facade, doors, windows and roof, but can affect any area of the home’s exterior that is visible to people living and traveling through the district.
Did you know? Even replacing your front door in a historic district requires approval through the formal Historic Review process. This process requires formal plans and specific fees and typically requires 6 to 8 weeks to complete.
But don’t worry! We can help you figure out how to phase your projects to make the most efficient use of the historic review process.
6 neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland were designated Conservation Districts by the City of Portland as part of the Albina Community Plan in 1992. The only difference between a Conservation and a Historic district is that a Conservation District is considered to have local historic significance where a Historic District is deemed to have national significance. The rules for a conservation district are a little more flexible for demolition, new construction and solar integration compared to historic districts.
Benefits: Similar to a Historic District, Conservation District neighborhoods are protected from large multi-residential, industrial or commercial redevelopment through the requirements of the historic review process. This protects property values and maintains the architectural details that define character of the neighborhood.
Costs: Homes and buildings that are considered to be contributing to the historic character of the neighborhood must go through the same historic review process as a historic district if they want to modify any aspect of the exterior of their homes.
Did you know? In historic preservation terms, not all buildings in a district are considered contributing to the character of the neighborhood, based on the period they were built and the history of the structure.
It is also true that not all sides of a home or structure are considered to be equally “contributing.” Often a back wall or a portion of a structure that was added after the historic period and before the district designation will be considered non-contributing and will have more flexible rules about how it can be modified as a result.
Want to know more about how the historic review process might affect your renovation plans?
Join us July 16th at Old Portland Hardware and Architectural for a Historic How To Workshop.