Our Advocacy Work

our advocacy workWhether you think you can, or think you can’t — you’re right.”  Henry Ford

Advocacy is the most challenging aspect of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society’s mission of supporting Lake Oswego’s historic fabric through advocacy and education. We firmly believe that if we don’t advocate on behalf of threatened landmark properties we are not doing our job as a non-profit dedicated to preservation.

We have received recognition, both locally and statewide, for our historic preservation advocacy on behalf of Lake Oswego landmarks. In word, and deed, we honor our motto: “Advocate. Educate. Celebrate!”advocate-educate-celebrate_red

No other organization does what we do for Lake Oswego.

Since our founding in 2011, we have testified at every public hearing regarding proposed major alterations or delisting of properties on the City of Lake Oswego’s Landmark Designation List. In this timeframe, we have submitted both written and oral testimony on behalf of five historic houses; there are only 43 landmark homes in Lake Oswego.

We also advocate for all threatened landmarks, not just homes. One recent land use advocacy case was the 1908 Christie School on the Marylhurst Campus. This building was originally a Catholic orphanage for girls and it has national, state, and local significance. The Society successfully retained the building’s landmark designation which prevents it from being demolished.

We also believe that our actions speak louder than words. Additional advocacy work of the Society includes:

  1. We’ve worked since 2011 to save the 1855 Carman House, the oldest house in Lake Oswego
  2. We lobbied on behalf of maintenance incentives for landmark homeowners
  3. We worked to protect and enhance language in the City’s comprehensive plan regarding historic resources
  4. We serve as one of the City-approved resources for documenting historic buildings slated for demolition
  5. We are working to change code requirements regarding demolitions
  6. We submit letters to the editor and citizen’s view articles to maintain public awareness of preservation issues
  7. We speak to groups regarding the social, economic, and environmental benefits of building retention
  8. In partnership with the City, we co-hosted a free community screening of the documentary The Greenest Building which examines preservation’s triple bottom line benefits

April 2015 The following testimony regarding lot line adjustments and substandard lots was presented to the Lake Oswego Planning Commission.

What is the goal for the continued development of Lake Oswego? We have looked to the Comprehensive Plan and the Plan speaks loudly to the preservation of neighborhood character. The Plan does not contemplate crowding houses into our neighborhoods via lot line adjustments and the development of substandard lots. Many residents, as well as our organization the Lake Oswego Preservation Society, share the Plan’s vision: the retention of neighborhood character as our community grows.

Lot line adjustments are ministerial decisions that have long-term impacts on neighborhood character and community livability. Because of these ramifications, these decisions should not be ministerial. The decision to build one or multiple houses on a substandard lot, along with lot line adjustments, alters our neighborhoods dramatically. The City Code doesn’t allow for public input or an appeals process, which renders the most impacted residents voiceless. Shouldn’t Lake Oswegans have the right of citizen involvement in these defining land use decisions?

One case in point involves our third oldest neighborhood, First Addition, which was platted in 1888 for ironworkers employed by Oswego’s second furnace. Albeit for different underlying reasons, similar issues and outcomes are involved in other parts of the City.

First Addition homes sitting on double lots or a lot and a half have become prime targets for redevelopment. Developers have left unsolicited offers of three quarters of a million dollars and more on porches for the purchase of homes – sight unseen. It just takes a signature to put the machinery of redevelopment in place. There are consequences for the community and the neighborhood such as:

  • Undesignated historic homes and our diverse housing stock are lost, often without even a photograph to remind us of what was once a part of our streetscape. These are the very structures that contribute to, or may even constitute, the “charm” of our neighborhoods;
  • More affordable housing is demolished making our community demographics less diverse and reducing the opportunity for families to move into the community which is a stated goal of our Comprehensive Plan;
  • Daylight and views disappear as much more massive and taller structures replace cottage-sized homes which makes one question whether this new housing is consistent with neighborhood character;
  • Unregulated demolitions send clouds of lead paint particulates into the air to settle permanently on surrounding properties, creating long-term public health hazards;
  • Backhoes create rubble to be trucked to landfills without any focus on sustainable reuse of existing building materials;
  • Chain saws bring down trees, often older than the houses, even trees which aren’t in the building footprint;
  • Neighbors are subjected to weeks, and sometimes months, of construction noise and heavy equipment traffic impacting our community livability as well as our infrastructure.

What’s happening in First Addition is another instance in which residents, often long-term, have no input, no recourse, and no voice. They can only watch as their neighborhood character is diminished and community livability is eroded.

There are some who often argue that private property owners have a right to do what they choose with their land; however, those choices have consequences which can negatively impact their neighbors, neighborhoods, and thereby, our community. Those impacted by those choices should have the right to participate in the related land use process and decision; and, not be excluded by ever increasing ministerial decisions which regularly deny the opportunity for a public hearing or appeal, or even notification of pending action.

The City of Lake Oswego, through its land use regulations, actions, processes and procedures must be compelled to uphold the vision and objectives found in our adopted Comprehensive Plan. As an example, the Recommended Action Measure: “Encourage the remodeling, restoration, and reuse of existing housing as an alternative to tearing down functional buildings.” How is this recommendation supporting community sustainability, neighborhood compatibility, and historic preservation being implemented by our Development Code, processes and procedures?

The “First Addition Scenario” may be unleashed on other neighborhoods across our City, depending on this Planning Commission’s recommendation, although this time around it would target single homes that sit on multiple, small lots such as those concentrated in our second oldest neighborhood first platted in 1883, which is now called Hallinan.

Hallinan currently has the greatest number of extant iron industry era homes so it’s critical to also keep in mind the Comprehensive Plan’s historic preservation goal: Preserve, promote, and maintain the historical, archaeological and cultural resources of the community. Far too often we’ve seen landmark properties, which should be protected by our City code, threatened by the potential for economic gain afforded by redevelopment. In fact, only 43 homes remain on the City’s Landmark Designation List.

We encourage you to define legally created lots and amend the code so lots platted in the nineteenth century – well before Oswego’s incorporation as a City, before the adoption of zoning standards, and before a development code was adopted – don’t supersede our contemporary zoning standards.

You, as our City’s Planning Commission, have the ability to recommend a solution, which will not allow underlying substandard lots and ministerial lot line adjustments to be used to build multiple houses where there was only one. How can replacing a single house on a large lot, or one house straddling several small lots, with multiple homes maintain neighborhood character? And how could this even be an option if we abide by our own Comprehensive Plan?

Let’s develop and implement policies and actions that encourage retention of our existing, functional housing stock and our landmarks, which, in turn, preserves neighborhood character, community livability, and contributes to our historic preservation goal — all of which are part of our own governing document, the Comprehensive Plan.

Let’s also find a solution that gives residents a voice. Decisions that permanently and dramatically alter the fabric of the neighborhoods should not be exempted from a public land use process. Let’s not have a one-sided solution that favors those who may have little long-term commitment to or interest in our neighborhoods and community.

October 2014 October 2014 The following message was sent to the City of Lake Oswego Planning Commission regarding their 2015 goal setting study session.

“Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.”  — Jane Jacobs

There are only 43 protected homes out of the more than 15,000 homes in our City; these are the historic homes on the City’s Landmark Designation List. An owner can demolish any one of the remaining 14,957 homes. As it’s often pointed out, trees in Lake Oswego are afforded more protection than houses.

In the last 12 months, a demolition permit has been issued approximately every 8 days. According to a Permit Technician, the cost is $95 plus $320 for erosion control. But what is the cost to our history, our neighborhoods, the environment, our sense of place, and our local economy?

Like pieces suddenly ripped out of a patchwork quilt, it can take a few hours for a backhoe to destroy the decades-old, sometimes century-old, fabric of our neighborhoods. Without a sign posted, a notice to neighbors, or photo documentation of these buildings, they truly disappear without warning and without a trace.

It’s time for new ideas and a fresh approach to the demolition of single-family residences in Lake Oswego. There are many persuasive reasons why we should not continue to throw away our buildings. The Society has come up with the following “S.A.N.E.” approach to emphasize the most pertinent reasons:

S is for sustainability. Reusing an existing building is the most sustainable choice that can be made. It’s ironic that citizens dutifully recycle cans and bottles while landfills are mounded to capacity with the rubble of what once were perfectly habitable homes.

A is for affordable housing. When we lose our older housing stock we are eliminating affordable housing and this choice is changing the demographics of our city and making it less diverse.

N is for neighborhood character. The fabric of our neighborhoods is being torn asunder and the charm that attracted homebuyers in the first place is being gradually replaced by homes that shout: Anywhere, USA.

E is for economic development. Rehabilitation of older buildings contributes more, in the long term, to the local economy than new construction. Donovan Rypkema is a leading expert on the economics of preservation. His report entitled Measuring Economic Impacts of Historic Preservation may be found online at: http://www.placeeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/economic-impacts-of-hp.pdf

The Society offers the following ideas as a starting point for discussions:

DEFINITION OF TERMS

We could not find any of the following terms in the Definitions section of City Code, with one exception noted below:

  1. Demolish: The City’s definition only applies to the code section on Historic Preservation: “To raze, destroy, dismantle, deface or in any other manner cause partial or total destruction of a contributing resource within a historic district or any landmark.” Let’s clearly define the term “demolish” for all structures.
  2. Demolition by Neglect: This term is used to describe a situation in which a property owner intentionally allows a property to suffer severe deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair.
  3. Deconstruction: Essentially this should be reverse construction to salvage the majority of building materials for reuse. This is not picking out a few reusable elements after wholesale destruction.
  4. Remodel: The term “remodel” should define the percentage of the demolition that occurs. For example, leaving one wall standing should not be defined as a “remodel.”

BUILDING RETENTION

Some municipalities will not allow a habitable house to be demolished. While we may not go to that extent, it would be advantageous to encourage retention of perfectly habitable homes.

  1. Create incentives to rehabilitate older housing stock.
  2. Make it easier to remodel than to tear down.
  3. Provide incentives for relocating buildings within the community as an alternative to demolition.
  4. Actively encourage partnerships among municipalities (city, county, and state) and local businesses and organizations specializing in building reuse.
  5. Educate the community about the strong relationship between sustainability and building retention.
  6. Replacement houses are typically much larger than the ones that were demolished. Recent research by the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab, based on analysis of three American cities, reported: “established neighborhoods with a mix of older, smaller buildings perform better than districts with larger, newer structures when tested against a range of economic, social, and environmental outcome measures.” The entire report is available at: http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/sustainable-communities/green-lab/oldersmallerbetter/#.VDxn10vmF95

DEMOLITIONS

We are not taking a fly-in-amber approach to saving every house. When demolitions occur we envision a more responsible and transparent approach to the process.

  1. Make deconstruction mandatory for any remodel or construction project exceeding a threshold dollar amount.
  2. Require that photo documentation of the existing structure be submitted with a demolition permit application.
  3. Post a sign on the property when a demo permit has been applied for similar to the posting of a tree-cutting permit.
  4. Provide notice to neighbors of a pending demolition.
  5. Make it easier for citizens to find out when demolition permits have been issued.
  6. Institute a 30-day delay between issuing a demolition permit and beginning demolition work.
  7. Prohibit demolition by neglect.

REPLACEMENT HOUSING

There are steps that can be taken to make new construction fit into an existing neighborhood.

  1. Maintain the same front and side yard setbacks for the new housing to maintain the streetscape and neighborhood compatibility.
  2. The City has invested in the creation of an Infill Design Handbook: http://www.ci.oswego.or.us/planning/infill-design-handbook, but it is not, according to planning staff, well used. Make some or all of these standards mandatory, not discretionary.
  3. Links to additional studies and resources may be found on our website at: http://lakeoswegopreservationsociety.org/resources/

Our community is faced with a demolition derby; homes are being bulldozed almost weekly. There is only one opportunity to make the decision to demolish a structure and our built environment is forever altered by this choice. Let’s stop the insanity. We urge the Planning Commission members to take a S.A.N.E. approach and address these issues in your 2015 goals.


October 2014 The Society has posed the following three questions to the 2014 candidates for Lake Oswego City Council:

1. How would you have voted on the Carman House decision that came before City Council and why?

Note: The criteria for this decision was the interpretation of a state statue: ORS 197.772(3). The legal ramifications of the decision affect historic properties statewide. The Society appealed the Lake Oswego City Council’s decision to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). LUBA handed down their opinion in our favor in the case Lake Oswego Preservation Society v. City of Lake Oswego and the Lake Oswego City Council’s decision was overturned. That decision has been appealed to Oregon’s Court of Appeals.

2. Are you concerned about the number of single family residence demolitions in Lake Oswego? If no, why? If yes, why?

3. Would you support any measures to preserve our vintage housing stock? If so, what would they be?

Please note that as a 501(c)(3), the Society cannot, and we are not, endorsing any particular Lake Oswego City Council candidates.

Ed Brockman: No response.

Joe Buck: Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions. I appreciate the important work you’ve done for our community for so long now.
1) I am familiar with the Carman House decision but not intimately. The situation, however, exemplifies one of many where there are good, valid points on both sides of the table. You have a home of historic value that folks would like to preserve, but the property owner was not among that group. Our community wants to preserve that which came before, but no one wants to do it in a forceful, heavy handed way. Ideally we can educate one another, communicate respectfully and encourage an overall sense of preservation that leads folks to draw conclusions that are for the best of our community’s heritage without feeling too overbearing on individuals and what they may be depending on for a livelihood. I will add that there are sometimes fair compromises, such as erecting a monument to that which was. When Our Lady of the Lake completely remodeled the school (where I attended grades 1-8), I was very sad to see that building torn down. The school, however, was able to integrate the old gymnasium wood into the new school so I feel that a part of the previous building still stands there and I now have that personal connection with the new structure.

2) Growing up in Lake Grove, I have seen more houses demolished that I can even count. Douglas Circle used to be a street of very small, older homes and it is now filled with well-designed, but brand new and much larger homes (and I do like the look of these homes, to be fair to the folks living there). Since it is the right of someone to purchase a property and do to it what they would like within our codes and regulations, I accept most of this as inevitable. Focusing on the positive it brings to the community often brings some solace: new families, children that will now call LO their hometown, children that will attend our schools and contribute to our community and homes that offer modern environmental features that bring new benefits. It is important, however, that we recognize the desire of our town to maintain the character of its individual neighborhoods. The City is inviting neighborhoods back into the process of creating overlay codes that will help sustain the integrity and character of our town.

3) Preservation of our vintage housing stock would require an investment of the community all around to establish win-win provisions for both the community at large and the individual homeowners. The homeowner would need to receive some form of benefit for the preservation and the community of course would then benefit from their efforts. The receipt of community input and the investigation of this possibility is certainly something I would stand behind.

Jeff Gudman: Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the three questions submitted to the council candidates. It is appreciated.

Question 1 – I voted with the majority in favor of removing the designation on the Carman House property [Society’s Note: The vote was 4 to 3]. My decision was based on a number of factors including my sense of the house as it is presently built and rebuilt bears little resemblance to what was the original house on the site [Society’s note: See the criteria above on which this decision was to be based.]. That was not my only reason. At the state level, where the decision was appealed successfully I support the city’s decision to let it be and go with whatever the property owner chooses to do about possible appeals. At this point, I do not see further city involvement in removing the current designation.

Question 2 – Yes and no – I am concerned with the single family residence demolitions. On the other hand, some demolitions are of homes that have, for whatever reason, gone beyond the point of repair or upgrade and are therefore better off being torn down. On the other hand, sometimes when there is a tear down, the replacement home does not add to the character of the community. I think the First Addition neighborhood efforts on rebuilds to provide for front porches as gathering points as pushed by code is one way of helping to maintain neighborhood and city character.

Question 3 – Vintage stock. Writing a code for blanket coverage of all vintage stock is very difficult, if not impossible, if some rights of the property owner are to be maintained. As noted, in my answer to question 2, front porch requirements are one way of addressing the character question. Other ways can include lot coverage.

Thanks again for the opportunity to answer the questions.

Matt Keenen:  

1. How would you have voted on the Carman House decision that came before City Council and why?
I will always vote to maintain historical property unless there are extreme circumstances.

2. Are you concerned about the number of single family residence demolitions in Lake Oswego? If no, why? If yes, why?
Only if it is to increase density inappropriately.

3. Would you support any measures to preserve our vintage housing stock? If so, what would they be?
I am a student of History so I will always take a hard look at supporting measures to preserve vintage housing stock.

Jackie Manz: Thank you for reaching out. I have a preservationists heart. Growing up in Los Angeles, I learned that often the very buildings or street feel that made an area attractive, often caused it’s demise. That’s not to say that every structure in a town needs to saved and revered, but that it is important to identify and have a discussion about historic, cultural and architecturally significant buildings and locations. That said, there is the very real and important issue of property rights and the balance between the two. For your information, I was appointed the Heritage Vitality Task Force in 2011. Obviously, Lake Oswego is not the only Oregon city facing this sort of dilemma. I would love to hear what thoughts and ideas the LOPS has on the subject! Now, on to your questions:

1. How would you have voted on the Carman House decision that came before City Council and why? I will be perfectly honest, I have studied the history of the Carmen House decision. With that in mind and sitting in my office not on the City Council dais, I would have voted no. As with many parts of our code and land use documents, I am confounded by the fact that there is no mention of artifacts in the area surrounding the property. I learned from work on the LOTWP line on my street, that if ten or or more artifacts are are found on a site, it is considered archaeologically significant. Had all of the artifacts been removed from the land? I understand that it is past tense situation, but it is one that simply reinforces the need to have the Big Discussion. What do want our City to look like in the future? And how can we strike a balance?

2. Are you concerned about the number of single family residence demolitions in Lake Oswego? If no, why? If yes, why? I live in Hallinan Heights. We have not seen much development in the twenty years that I have lived here, but that is changing. A sub-division is planned where a 2011 Historic Home Tour property now sits. The house, while not on the historic home register, it is significant to the area. What can be done if the property owners are demolishing the house, building a subdivision and all is within the code? As you know, there are a number of homes in this area alone that are of historical merit. The question becomes one of balance and money. What trumps? The right of the property owner versus the good of the whole. At what cost to each “side?” Protracted legal fights are not in the City’s best interest. But neither is the demise of what differentiates us from…adjacent cities. Again, it a question that we as a city must ask ourselves.

3. Would you support any measures to preserve our vintage housing stock? If so, what would they be? I would support preservation of our vintage stock. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how I would go about that as City Councilor as I write this. I would need to do a lot of reading and have some serious conversations with those who know far more than I do. But I am interested and willing.