Advocacy is the most challenging aspect of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society’s mission: To preserve, protect and advocate on behalf of Lake Oswego’s built heritage. 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!”
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 and National Register
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.
Additional advocacy work of the Society includes:
- We’ve worked since 2011 to save the 1855 Carman House, the oldest house in Lake Oswego
- We lobbied on behalf of maintenance incentives for landmark homeowners
- We worked to protect and enhance language in the City’s comprehensive plan regarding historic resources
- We serve as one of the City-approved resources for documenting historic buildings slated for demolition
- We are working to change code requirements regarding demolitions and preservation
- We submit letters to the editor and citizen’s view articles to maintain public awareness of preservation issues
- We speak to groups regarding the social, economic, and environmental benefits of building retention
- 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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
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.
- Create incentives to rehabilitate older housing stock.
- Make it easier to remodel than to tear down.
- Provide incentives for relocating buildings within the community as an alternative to demolition.
- Actively encourage partnerships among municipalities (city, county, and state) and local businesses and organizations specializing in building reuse.
- Educate the community about the strong relationship between sustainability and building retention.
- 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
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.
- Make deconstruction mandatory for any remodel or construction project exceeding a threshold dollar amount.
- Require that photo documentation of the existing structure be submitted with a demolition permit application.
- Post a sign on the property when a demo permit has been applied for similar to the posting of a tree-cutting permit.
- Provide notice to neighbors of a pending demolition.
- Make it easier for citizens to find out when demolition permits have been issued.
- Institute a 30-day delay between issuing a demolition permit and beginning demolition work.
- Prohibit demolition by neglect.
There are steps that can be taken to make new construction fit into an existing neighborhood.
- Maintain the same front and side yard setbacks for the new housing to maintain the streetscape and neighborhood compatibility.
- 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.
- Links to additional studies and resources may be found on our website at: https://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.