A Perspective on the Buckman Historic District

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We recently received an e-mail from a Buckman resident with some questions and concerns about the proposed Historic District in Buckman:

I own an historic home in Buckman that we have lovingly restored over many years. I am concerned that it will become more difficult and more expensive to do the kind of good work that we are doing to our home. In addition, I am concerned that some of the good infill that is happening in our neighborhood will come to a stop while the old, ugly, and poorly build 70s development will continue to fall into disrepair. Is there a way for me to log my concerns and hear feedback?

We know there are many people in Buckman who probably have similar concerns. Tim Askin, a member of both the BCA board and the Buckman Historic Association, weighed in with his thoughts:

We thank you for your interest in the project and your concern. We in fact share many of your concerns. The city’s design review fees are both unreasonable and counterproductive. They are admittedly the highest such fees in Oregon and as research by the Irvington Neighborhood Association has shown, they are most likely the highest in the nation. The Buckman Historic Association and presumably the Buckman Community Association will be joining with Irvington, the Architectural Heritage Center, and many other neighborhoods in filing written complaints to the city and forcing current mayoral and council candidates to address the issue in public forums.

As to your own restoration projects and that of our neighbors’, presumably most of your work is interior. The historic district does not add any new regulation to interiors. It simply tries to assure that exterior changes are done sensitively and appropriately as yours have been. I am sure you have seen several beautiful 19th century houses all around Buckman and Portland where insensitive additions and changes have been made.

Finally, as to infill. Most of the recent projects in Buckman have been much more tasteful than the buildings constructed in the 60s and 70s. However, they have not necessarily been as respectful of their neighbors in size, scale, or massing as might have been liked (without regard to anyone’s preferences on design/style/aesthetics). Within the district boundary (http://visitahc.org/files/pdf/Buckman_Map.pdf) there is simply no inventory whatsoever of vacant, buildable land (Washington High School notwithstanding, the city that owns the grounds now and PPS which maintains ownership of the building are not going to part with those parcels under any circumstances). One of the primary goals of this project is to prevent demolitions of the wonderful buildings we currently have, which historically has been by developers who have no social stake in our community. Nothing in the city’s historic district regulations will prevent demolition of buildings constructed after 1938 (in Buckman’s district, the cutoff year is district-specific).

To this point, the Buckman Community Association has taken no official stance on the district proposal. I have been asked to draft the response, but I cannot speak on its behalf. I speak only for myself and the separate Buckman Historic Association.

As Tim mentioned, the BCA has taken no formal position on the Historic District effort. Our goal at this time is more to facilitate community members’ involvement in this interesting and important process.

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4 Responses to “A Perspective on the Buckman Historic District”

  1. Matt Says:

    I would like to second the concerns of the Buckman resident. In addition to the fees required by the city, most applications for things as straight forward as window replacements can be complex and often require the services of an architect to prepare the application which can run upwards of a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars in addition to the city fees.

    I feel like I have a different perspective than most of those who attended the recent informational meeting, because I had been a renter within the proposed boundary for the better part of a decade before moving into my own house (also in the proposed historic district). Rentals make up something like 85% of residences and many landlords are hesitant enough as it is to put in the work necessary to keep their properties. Adding fees and special applications and comment periods to the process just creates barriers to performing this necessary work.

    There are so many beautiful homes in Buckman that need help and restoration, as well as additional work in the form of seismic and energy retrofits (both necessary if we want our historic resources to stay around another hundred years)… But the way the city implements its historic districts, it offers no help to land owners who need it, and can stand in the way of some necessary upkeep and upgrades. I worry that if the historic neighborhood proposal goes through in its current form, it could slowly degrade the quality of buildings in the neighborhood.

    And to to address the infill comment, there is buildable land in the form of vacant lots, parking lots, and dividable lots that all could see development in the coming years if Buckman remains a desirable. There isn’t much, but it is there and my feeling is that a happy occupied house beats unused space no matter what you think about the aesthetics.

  2. Christine Says:

    If you are doing a simple window replacement and not changing the size or shape or operation of the window, an architect is not needed. You just need a good window supplier who knows what they are doing. They can get you window elevations, and you can take pictures of your house to show the city.

    If, however, you are changing any of the above, then, yes, you will need someone to do drawings for you. Again, (I hate to say this, because I am an architect), you do not need a registered architect to do this for you. There are plenty of unemployed architecture professionals out there who could do this for you.

    I agree with you that it is sad to see many beautiful homes in disrepair. I have lived in this neighborhood 10 years now – and guess what, not much has changed. People only spend money if they care and if they have it. The problem with most properties in Buckman being owned by absentee landlords, is that they typically don’t care. If a developer walks up to them with a good offer, they can sell the properties. Vacant properties have remained vacant either because the owner is hanging onto it, or there is some other reason why it is not developable (multiple owners who cannot agree on what to do). We had a building boom 5 years ago, and all of those vacant lots could have been developed with money that seemed to be coming from everywhere. Instead, there seemed to be a new teardown proposal every week. This is why Buckman needs the protection of a historic district. Already, the half-block across the street from me is disappearing. The rest of the block won’t be far behind in the next boom.

  3. Matt Kirkpatrick Says:

    There seem to be some misunderstandings that I feel the pro historic district group has that I would like to address from my experience. As background, I have worked for a few architecture firms in town hand have prepared over a dozen design review applications for both large and small projects in a few different historic/design districts around town.

    The first issue that I would like to address, is the idea that design review moves power back into the hands of home owners. It does not, it actually does the opposite. I have found that going through the process is much more of a hardship on homeowners than it is on developers. There are a couple of reasons for this, first is that developers are already expecting to spend a few million dollars and a couple of years on a single project, so adding a few thousand dollars and a few months isn’t that big of a setback… Whereas for the scale of project that a homeowner is likely to do, a few thousand dollars and a few months is a large setback that many have difficulty affording. The other reason is that home owners just take these things more personally, developers tend to be able to roll with demands for aesthetic changes because most are just concerned with maintaining their ROI, but for a homeowner it can be downright offensive to have a city official or neighbors tell them how they can and cannot express themselves through their home.

    In addition to this, design review does not in my experience grant blanket veto power to the neighbors. For instance, if you look at the case of development near you, it is very similar to other apartment buildings along Morrison and Belmont… Many of which are upwards of a hundred years old. These could be cited as precedent. I don’t think the current development would have had much difficulty being approved.

    The second issue I would like to address is the implication that our whole neighborhood runs the risk of being overtaken by large apartment buildings. This is just not true. Most of the neighborhood is zoned R5 and R2.5 which are low density residential zones. The only areas at risk of higher density development are those that are zoned for it, most of which are along major streets, and many of those zones are not included in the historic district boundary. So if you live near a very busy intersection with existing commercial use, you might get new larger neighbors in the future. But if not, you are probably safe.

    And the third issue is – if you want to maintain the quality and character of the neighborhood, why would you make it harder for people to keep up their homes? This makes no sense to me. I would be very supportive of a historic district if it allowed people to get financial assistance in fixing up their old homes, but this does exactly the opposite. It put up barriers to upkeep. Why would you want that? And why would anyone think it is appropriate to saddle their neighbors with that financial burden?

    I think we all can agree that preserving the nature of our neighborhood and maintaining the vitality of our old homes is an important goal. But this effort would be a setback. Ultimately the city needs to change the way it administers historic districts, and when this happens I would welcome one for Buckman. But until then, I see these efforts as nothing short of harmful.

  4. E C offin Says:

    I have lived in Buckman for 13 years. I place a higher value on this neighborhood’s vibrancy than I do on historic preservation. It is close-in to Downtown Portland and boasts a relatively high population density. Think about what the neighborhood will look like 100 years from now.

    If the light industrial area of lower Buckman (Central East-side industrial zone from Water Ave to SE 11th) remains industrial then Buckman east of 12th will be the most close-in residential area on the east side of the Willamette. Does it make sense for this location to remain housing built in the early 1900s or would it make more sense to allow more people to live in the area?

    I have spent significantly to renovate my house in Buckman. The renovations have been to character, and by remaining in character this work has been costly. Thus far I have repaired about 30 years of benign neglect with many more repair projects yet to be completed. However, I do not expect this structure to exist forever.

    In cities which have been inhabited for centuries, how have their citizens managed various neighborhoods through their inevitable ebb and flows of good fortune? What effects have been seen in American cities with similar historical districts after 50 to 75 years (if any exist)? What are the unintended consequences of making an historical district?

    We reside in a living, changing neighborhood, not a museum. The structures we inhabit serve our needs. If our needs change then so too should the structures.

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