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Becoming a historic district - FAQ

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The idea of having one's neighborhood being given a historic designation of some sort causes just about as much confusion as it does excitement (see History of Laurelhurst Historic District Designation).

This document attempts to provide factual answers to the questions that come up about this process.

If you see a question that you have some part of the answer to, please edit this document and provide what you know and a good reference to back you up (non-referenced responses run the risk of being removed).

If you have a question that you don't see listed here, please add it to the Open Questions list.


Answered Questions - General

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What is the difference between what is happening now and the previous attempt to make Laurelhurst a historic district?

When the idea was considered previously, it was for local historic designation, and pursued officially by the LNA on behalf of what started out as an interested neighborhood. The current effort is for designation at a national level, and is being undertaken by a group of neighbors on their own without any kind of support from the LNA.

Who is working on bringing historic status to Laurelhurst?

Laurelhurst resident Peter Meijer, a member of the Portland Landmark Commission and organizer of September's presentation on what is entailed in becoming listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, indicated at that meeting that he is working with a group of about a dozen neigbhorood residents to investigate getting Laurelhurst listed on the National Registry.

Neighbors who have expressed an interest in assisting with the National Register Nomination process include: Peter Meijer, Jeff Soulage, Paddy McGuire, Sarah Waring, and others. If anyone else is interested, please contact Peter Meijer at 503.517.0283.

What kind of historic designation is being pursued on behalf of Laurelhurst?

Currently at least one group of Laurelhurst residents is working to have Laurelhurst listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Can historic designation really be made by a small group of people without the consideration of the majority of the neighborhood?

Yes, but property owners do have the opportunity to voice their dissent and stop the listing. Anyone can start the process, complete the National Register nomination form, and submit it to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for consideration by the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation (SACHP). Property owners can register their dissent during the 45-day comment period held after the nomination is recieved by the Keeper of the National Register. If a majority of property owners in a district object by sending a notarized statement against listing to either the SHPO or to the Keeper of the National Register, the distrct will not be listed.

What kinds of historic designations are available for a neighborhood like Laurelhurst?

At the federal level, a neighborhood like Laurelhurst can be listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. Buildings can also be listed individually or as part of a Multiple Property Submission provided that they are historically important in their own right.

At the local level, "Historic District" and "Conservation District" options are available.

Would historic designation at any level freeze the property taxes for all houses in the neighborhood?

No. There is a program available at the State level that can freeze the ASSESSED VALUE for an individual contributing property for 15 years as an incentive for the property owner to make improvements to the property to enhance its historic nature.

This special assessment must be applied for individually for each property. There are fees and restrictions involved in obtaining this assement.

Does a historic district deplete taxes for public schools?

The nomination process and status of a National Register Historic District has no affect on local, state, or federal taxes. Subsequent to listing as a Historic District, an individual property Owner, at their own personal discretion, may choose to participate in the State of Oregon's Special Assessment program, if the property is eligible for the program.

The City has been asked (and is in the process of preparing) what percentage of homes in Ladd's Addition (the current Historic District most comparable to Laurelhurst) take advantage of the Special Assessment to provide insight into how many homes in Laurelhurst are likely to apply for the program.

From this document put out by the State, it appears as though 45 properties in Ladd's Addition are participating in the Special Assessment program. According to this list on PortlandMaps.com it appears that there are 656 properties in Ladd's Addition, which gives an opt-in rate for the program of about 6.9%.

Interestingly, according to the same PortlandMaps.com list, the average year that a contributing structure was built was about 1920 (1919.8 to be specific).

What is the Special Assessment that is available at the state level?

Oregon's Special Assessment of Historic Property Program, established in 1975, was the nation's first state-level historic preservation tax incentive. It "freezes" a property's assessed value for 15 years.

Basic program requirements are as follows:

  • The building must be on the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or as a contributing building in a historic district.
  • A preservation plan must be prepared that outlines substantial rehab work the building will undergo during the 15-year period.
  • There is an application fee equal to 1/3 of 1% (0.0033) of the real market value.
  • A four-hour public open house is required annually.
  • An approved plaque must be installed on the building.
  • State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) approval is needed for exterior and interior work of any substance.


What happens if the tax rate goes down after a 15 year freeze is put in place?

The 15 year freeze applies to the assessed value of the property in question, and not to the actual taxes levied against it. So, if the tax rate goes down, that decrease would be applied to the frozen value of the house just as it would for any other property. The same is true if the tax rate goes up.

If the neighborhood achieves historic status, will I not be able to paint my house any color I want?

The only reason you would not be able to select your own paint color would be if the color of your house was specifically mentioned as part of the reason that your house contributed to the Laurelhurst's listing on the National Register, which is extremely unlikely for houses in Laurelhurst.

Who can I contact for more information?

For inquiries on the Nationl Register of Historic Places program, you can contact the following individuals at the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office:

Ian Johnson 503.986.0678 <email>ian.johnson@state.or.us</email>

Cara Kaser 503.986.0784 <email>cara.kaser@state.or.us</email>

For inquiries about the effects of being listed in the National Register in Portland, contact Liza Mickle 503-823-7666; <email>lmickle@ci.portland.or.us</email>, or Nicholas Starin, 503-823-5837; <email>nstarin@ci.portland.or.us</email>. The Bureau of Planning’s website address is: http://www.portlandonline.com/planning.

Peter Meijer is a Laurelhurst resident who is investigating placing Laurelhurst on the National Register of Historic Places. He can be contacted at: <email>peterm@pmapdx.com</email>.

Inquiries appropriate for the LNA Board can be sent to Board president MJ Coe at <email>mj@mjsunderground.net</email>.

Answered Questions - National Program and Implications



Can the national process be halted?

Yes. A majority (more than 50%) of property owners must object with a notarized letter during the 45-day comment period following the nomination's submission to the Keeper of the National Register in order to stop a listing. If a property owner does not submit a notarized letter of dissent to either the Keeper of the National Register or the State Historic Preservation Office, he/she is counted as supporting the listing.

Each owner in a potential district has one "vote" regardless of how many properties or parts of properties that the individual owns. Multiple legal owners of a single piece of property get one vote each, regardless of the percentage of ownership. All property owners have the opportunity to submit a letter of dissent, regardless if their property is contributing or non-contributing to a district. Individuals with properties outside the proposed district boundaries cannot participate.

National Register Benefits and Restrictions; Spring 2007 and National Register Historic Districts; Spring 2007


What is the process of becoming listed as a historic district on the National Register?

The first step is to get a preliminary eligibility evaluation of the property from National Register staff. This step is optional.

A consultant completes a Reconnaissance Level Survey of each individual building within the potential historic district. This step is critical to determining if an area qualifies as a historic district and what the potential boundaries may be. This process can take several weeks to several months.

The next step is completion of the nomination form that physically describes the district and documents its significance. This process can take up to a year.

Submit complete nominations to the State Historic Preservation Office for review. Assuming that all goes well and the nomination is complete, it takes 3-6 months to complete the formal review process.

Technically complete nomination forms are then scheduled for review by a nine-member, governor-appointed State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation (SACHP) that is responsible for reviewing and approving all nominations to the National Register. There are three meetings where a review can be conducted each year. Prior to the SACHP meeting, local historic preservation offices have an opportunity to comment on the nomination and the district's eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

The SACHP decides whether the district meets the National Register criteria and makes its recommendations to the State Historic Preservation Office accordingly.

Approved nominations are sent to The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places in Washington, D.C., who decides whether to accept the nomination and list the property.

What are "contributing" and "non-contributing properties"?

These are designations used in conjunction with the National Register and are used to indicate which properties or other buildings, objects, structures, and sites in a potential historic district have sufficient age (50+ years) and integrity (historic appearance) to represent the historic period. Properties that retain their historic appearance are "contributing," and those that do not are "non-contributing." These determinations are made by a qualified professional consultant and verified by the State Historic Preservation Office.

If Laurelhurst is listed on the National Register, do I have to open my house up to visitors if I have a "contributing" property?

No. There is no obligation to admit the public to a listed property unless you have voluntarily agreed to do so as a condition of receiving federal, state, or local economic benefits.

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What historical aspects are evaluted as part of a National Register application review?

Properties likely to meet the criteria of the National Register are at least 50 years old, are well preserved and distinctive examples of an architectural or engineering type or style. Also, the property may be associated with persons, events, or broad patterns in local, state, or national history.

For a historic district, landscape and streetscape features that are 50 years or older and that retain a high degree of historic character and integrity, and represent an important aspect of an area's history are prime candidates for nomination.

Answered Questions - Local Programs and Implications

What is a "Historic District" and "Conservation District" at the local level?

These are terms used by the City of Portland to designate special areas of the City that are significant only at the local or neighborhood level ("Conservation Districts"), or those areas that have broader historic significance ("Historic Districts").

Currently there is a requirement that 100% of property owners in a proposed district must consent to such a designation, which has effectively eliminated these local district options.

What are the LOCAL benefits and restrictions that come from being on the National Register of Historic Places?


The Portland Zoning Code provides incentives for properties with historic designation, including:

  • Some land use flexibility (e.g. commercial uses in residential zones).
    • This is unlikely to be seen as an incentive in Laurelhurst. Will it apply? Appears to be intended for existing non-residential structures (like churches).
      • Laurelhurst is primarily zoned as a single-family residential area, so for most of the neighborhood the incentives would be limited accordingly. The most widely applicable incentive would be relaxed restrictions on conditional uses such as group living facilities and institutional uses such as schools and daycare. Note these incentives apply to contributing properties in historic districts and designated landmarks. See section 33.445.610 of the Portland Zoning Code for more details. Liza Mickle, City Planner
  • Exemption from certain requirements (e.g. minimum and maximun density).
    • Would this ease pressure on increasing housing density in Laurelhurst, or ease the entrance of multi-family dwellings? Wording in the "Summary of Portland Historic Preservation Zoning Incentives" appears to support the latter case as well as the former.
      • The incentive allowing additional density in single-dwelling zones is available to designated landmarks but not to contributing properties in historic districts. For that reason, it would have a limited impact in Laurelhurst. The exemption from minimum housing density requirements is intended mainly to allow historic properties in multi-dwelling zones to establish densities lower than existing requirements. This would not generally apply to Laurelhurst because most of the area is already zoned as a low density, single-dwelling area. Liza Mickle, City Planner

The Portland Building Code also provides incentives for historic properties, including:

  • Relaxed seismic upgrade requirements.
    • Is this likely to be relevant in Laurelhurst?
      • This is not likely to be relevant in Laurelhurst. Seismic upgrade requirements generally apply to commercial buildings, unreinforced masonry buildings, and properties where there is a change in use or occupancy. For more information about these regulations, call or visit the Development Services Center at 1900 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 1500, 503-823-7526; www.portlandonline.com/bds. Liza Mickle, City Planner
  • Alternative Life/Fire-Safety soltions.
    • Again, relevant to Laurelhurst?
      • This is not likely to be relevant in Laurelhurst because it is generally a single-dwelling residential area. For more information about these regulations. For more information, call or visit the Development Services Center at 1900 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 1500, 503-823-7526; www.portlandonline.com/bds. Liza Mickle, City Planner

Other incentives available include:

  • Oregon Historic Speciall Assessment Program
  • Federal Tax Credits (see the Federal benefits section of this document)
  • State, Federal, and non-profit loans and grants.

Are the incentives available to all properties in a district, or just contributing properties?

  • Agencies and organizations that provide loans and grants have different goals and limitations for the funds they distribute, so it is it’s hard to generalize about all the possibilities. However, grants could potentially benefit all properties in a historic district – for example, by promoting historic preservation activities. Nonprofit loans, on the other hand, are typically not made to residential property owners so would be a limited option in an area like Laurelhurst. Liza Mickle, City Planner


All properties within a designated historic district are subject to Historic Design Review. This includes properties that are deemed "non-contributing" at the Federal level.

For all "contributing" properties in a historic district, a review is required before a building can be torn down. Called a "Demolition Review" (the similar "Demolition Delay Review" applies only to properties with local-level - that is, not on the National Register - status), it involves the advice of the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, and a hearing of the City Council.

What triggers a "Historic Design Review" and what is the impact of one?

According to Title 33, the following proposals (relevant to Laurelhurst) in a Historic District are subject to Historic Design Review:

  • Exterior alteration of a primary structure;
  • Building a new structure;
  • Non-standard improvements in the public right-of-way

Exemptions from Historic Design Review (relevant to Laurelhurst) include:

  • Construction of a detached accessory structure with 300 squre feet or less of floor area when the accessory structure is at least 40 feat from a front property line;
  • Changes that do not require a building, site, zoning, or sign permit from the City AND will not alter the exterior material or color of a resource HAVING EXTERIOR MATERIALS OR COLOR SPECIFICALLY LISTED IN THE NATIONAL REGISTER NOMINATION;
  • Normal repair and maintenance (other than changing the facade color where such color is listed in the National Register nomination)

What kinds of things are looked for in a Historic Design Review of a non-contributing property? If it doesn't contribute, then why does it need review?

New construction and alterations to existing properties, whether contributing or noncontributing, all have the potential to affect the defined character of a historic district. For that reason, historic design review requirements apply to all properties. The criteria used in the review process address development issues such as architectural compatibility (for example, with adjacent properties and with the district as a whole) and concepts like size and massing that are relevant to all properties regardless of their designation. Liza Mickle, City Planner

In terms of the non-contributing properties, they are still reviewed according to the applicable guidelines for that district. The primary design issues to remodels of these properties are that the alterations be compatible with the existing building style, character and materials and that the building remain in scale with other buildings in the district and also maintain important patterns of the district, such as front facade setbacks, garage locations, etc. Granted these properties are not as significant as the contributing ones, but they are still reviewed as important examples of various building eras and of the evolving character of the district. Within a district, the same guidelines are applied to both the non-contributing and contributing resources. Nicholas Starin, City Planner

What is the difference between a Type II and a Type III Historic Design Review in terms of the review process?

The Type II procedure is administrative, with final decisions made by staff. The Type III procedure is longer and more involved, and it includes a hearing before the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission. For more information, call or visit the Development Services Center at 1900 SW 4th Avenue, Suite 1500, 503-823-7526; www.portlandonline.com/bds. Liza Mickle, City Planner

What Portland neighborhoods have national historic status?

The Oregon State Historic Preservation Office maintains a list of historic districs for the entire state.

In Portland, the following areas are listed on the National Register:

  • Alphabet Historic District
  • East Portland/Grand Avenue Historic District
  • Kenton Commercial Historic District
  • King's Hill Historic District
  • Ladd's Addition Historic District
  • Mount Tabor Park Reservoirs Historic District
  • New Chinatown/Japantown Historic District
  • Rocky Butte Scenic Drive Historic District
  • Skidmore/Old Town Historic District
  • South Portland Historic District
  • Thirteenth Avenue Historic District
  • Washington Park Reservoirs Historic District
  • Yamhill Historic District

Umm, are you really just gvniig this info out for nothing?

Partially Answered Questions

Hasn't some of the work for a National Register nomination already been done the last time the neighborhood considered historic status?

Some work was done during the period between 1990 and 1994 to complete the requirements for a local historic district. Some of this work applies to a nomination to the National Register; however, the requirements for National Register-listing are quite different and significantly more work needs to be done. Much of the information in the original local historic district nomination must be updated before being submitted.

The group that is currently investigating a listing on the National Registry would probably have more information on this.

Open Questions

  • Why would we want Laurelhurst to have a historic district status?
  • Is there any real NEED to Laurelhurst to have a historic district status?
  • Are there examples of things that we wouldn't have wanted to have happened that actually came about that would have been prevented if Laurelhurst had historic status?
  • Are non-contributing properties elligible for the benefits of a National Register listing?
  • Do the boundaries of a national historic district need to align with those of the neighborhood as it currently exists?
  • How would historic status affect existing commercial properties in Laurelhurst?
  • Would being on the National Register provide access to additional dollars to repair and preserve community features like the arches?
  • Will being listed on the National Register prevent me from adding an additional floor to my house, or otherwise expanding my house in a major way? If so, is there a difference in what might be allowed between a contributing property and one that does not contribute?
  • What percentage of properties in Ladd's addition (or other, similar nationally listed Historic District in Portland) have applied for the 15 year tax freeze? What would the effective impact on local tax-based resources be if a significant number of houses were to apply for (and receive) this freeze simultaneously in Laurelhurst?
  • What is the process for objecting to National Register listing of a potential historic district like Laurelhurst? What specific (if any) information is required in such an objection?
  • If a majority of property owners object to the listing of Laurelhurst, does that mean that any further action by the National Register to list it must stop?
  • If a majority of property owners object to the listing of Laurelhurst, is it possible to get it listed at some future date? If so, how?
  • What happens if a property is receiving a Special Assessment and property values plummet? Does the assessed value stay frozen at the same level?
  • Will historic district listing of Laurelhurst interfere with homeowners' ability to install alternative energy or energy conservation systems at/on their homes? For example, will I be able to place solar photovoltaic panels on my roof?
  • Will historic district listing of Laurelhurst have any impact on future traffic levels in Laurelhurst? For example, if the city in future wished to make Glisan or Stark a more major street to carry more traffic, would historic designation make any difference?

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