A neighborhood divided: Eastmoreland proceeds with historic district application
Although a narrow majority of residents polled within the proposed Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association (ENA) Historic District boundary — with only two thirds of the residents participating — voted against the national designation, the majority of the ENA board of directors voted to continue the application process during their regular monthly meeting on March 16.
Although the issue has been marked by a high level of rancor and acrimony by neighbors on both sides, the full house (some 240 people) at the meeting comported themselves with restraint and decorum. Prior to this meeting, at a special ENA Board Meeting held at Duniway Elementary School on March 9, Anne Dufay, the executive director of Southeast Uplift, the neighborhood coalition office that oversaw the receipt and counting of the poll, had announced the results:
• I don't know 19
• Support 666
• Oppose 702
Of the 2,060 polling ballots sent, 1,400 were returned, meaning that only about 67 percent of those polled chose to respond. ENA Chair Tom Hansen fielded questions about the security and methodology of the poll, making it clear that the Eastmoreland Historic District application would not be discussed at the March 9 meeting. From the beginning, the ENA Board had made it clear that the poll was advisory, simply seeking a neighborhood consensus — but over the course of about seven months, many Board members publicly stated they would accept the majority opinion expressed by those who participated. At their regular monthly meeting, held on Thursday, March 16, the ENA Board of Directors considered the topic of advancing the Eastmoreland Historic District application, held at Sellwood Middle School.
After dispatching other business, Chair Hansen announced that the proponents and opponents of the Historic District had been allotted nine minutes to speak. Those crowded in the school library — far more standing than sitting, in the available seats — listened respectfully to the presenters, for the most part.
The opponents speak
"We're here today as the Board decides whether to honor the expressed wishes of the majority of the neighborhood who do not want the neighborhood made a Historic District," began Patrick Cummings, the first speaker in opposition. Cummings gave the board kudos for "connecting a meaningful poll" and pointed out, "The majority said they do not want a Historic District."
He then enumerated some of the 22 communications sent out by regular mail, email, and social media by those supporting the Historic District, either directly by the ENA Board, or by a separate group called HEART (Historic Eastmoreland Achieving Results Together).
"All these communications were urging a 'yes vote' on the Historic District poll," Cummings pointed out. Speaking next, Chelsea Cummings thanked the Board for putting on activities such as the Fourth of July Parade, and taking care the trees and the green spaces. "We' re concerned about saving homes, landscape and trees — what about the people, neighbors?" she continued. Pointing out that the 702 who voted against the Historic District in the poll, and 725 neighbors signed notarized objections to the proposed designation, Cummings concluded, "Please show us that we aren't a foe to be defeated — show us that you don't care more about the buildings in this neighborhood then the people who live in them."
Although he admitted to voting in favor of the Historic District designation in the poll, Reed College Political Science Professor Paul Gronke said "I am here to urge the board withdraw the nomination at this time. "I think the only way real way to move forward here is to bind those wounds is to withdraw the nomination, bring the community back together, in some way to try to control development our neighborhood to strict demolitions in a way we can all agree upon," added Gronke.
The professor pointed out that "a small but significant majority" voted to withdraw the nomination. "We can continue down this road [of furthering the Historic District nomination] and continue to open this raw wound that is been open in Eastmoreland, or we can start a dialogue on how to move forward," Gronke said. Cindy McCann echoed the sentiments expressed by the previous speakers, and added, "Please do not vote because you' ve done all this work; please vote based on what the majority has told you. I cannot believe that this Board wants to go down in the record of voting against the majority in this neighborhood.
"I really want this Board to honor the majority of this neighborhood and let this neighborhood heal and find a good tool to protect us," McCann said. The proponents say Proponent Derek Blum, co-founder HEART, began reading a letter from an Eastmoreland neighbor regarding the "advisory poll" from a neighbor who said the poll was "very confusing." "One thing I think we can agree on that there was a great deal of confusion in this process," Blum said. "Some have been confused whether they should respond to the poll, or directly to the Oregon State Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation, or both."
Adding to the confusion, Blum said, was the physical presentation of the poll mailer. He then decried "significant" confusion "generated from the communications of groups and individuals that continually indicated that 'no action equals a yes vote.'"
"The survey results were inconclusive and do not provide a clear verdict of the neighborhood's view of the Historic District," Blum added, other than pointing out "What we already know: We are a neighborhood divided."
Other factors the Board should consider, Blum suggested is that "The nomination itself has merit ... the City of Portland Historic Landmarks Commission and the Oregon State Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation have supported the nomination."
He also pointed to the City of Portland's Residential Infill Project as a reason for the Historic District, saying, "This is a de facto rezoning of Eastmoreland from single-family residential to multifamily. It is an aggressive overreach by the City of Portland in the name of increased density, and will encourage additional demolitions."
Instituting an Historic District, under changes to Oregon LCDC State Rule 5, "the City of Portland will have to work with Eastmoreland residents to develop neighborhood-specific guidelines."
Wrapping up, Blum commented on two pending demolitions in the neighborhood at this time and said, "A National Historic District designation is the only thing that will stop these demolitions."
Neighbor Katie Lamb testified that because she supported the Historic District, "I'm really nervous, and I'm afraid. I'm afraid of retaliation, I'm afraid a personal attack, I'm afraid of judgment. That fear kept me silent for a very long time. That fear is epidemic for supporters of the Historic District in our neighborhood. I don't think any this fear and intimidation has been done on purpose, in an attempt to hush one side of the story, but that is what happened."
Commenting that the word was spread that those that approve of the Historic District didn't need to do anything, Lamb said, "This is a false narrative. It's wrong to make them feel bad for supporting the Historic District, and wrong to tell them that did not have to participate in the conversation. It's no wonder supporters were underrepresented in the poll."
The ENA Board decides
Chair Hansen then called upon the 19 board members, asking them to briefly comment if they chose to do so. Most of them spoke in support of the Historic District, some voiced their disapproval, and a few chose not to speak. Speaking last, Hansen said those opposed to the Historic District designation "were very good at raising doubts, and sometimes fears, obfuscating some of the issues" — adding that, "The board was too complacent."
He concluded, "I'm going to say, and I strongly feel this way, that the poll is not a mandate; it does not represent a mandate by the numbers. But we have received two mandates, though. "One is from the Portland Landmarks Commission that unanimously voted that [Eastmoreland has] Historic District potential; and secondly and more importantly, that the statewide Advisory Commission voted unanimously to continue with the application, and cautioned us against giving up on the nomination process. So there we are," Hansen concluded.
ENA Secretary George Bengtson then proceeded to conduct a roll-call vote. The motion to continue the Historic District application passed with thirteen yes votes, three no votes, and three abstaining.
Although he's been a longstanding proponent of establishing the Eastmoreland Historic District, former Chair and current ENA Treasurer, Robert McCullough raised many eyebrows when he emphatically voted "no."
After the meeting, McCullough said, "I've said all along that I would support the majority of the poll; some of us live and die by our word, and I think I just died by my word — but that's all right."
When asked after the meeting adjourned how the Board could reunite the neighborhood, Hansen said, "We will continue to try to meet more face-to-face with neighbors, no matter what side they're on, because I think once the issue becomes more definite, a lot of the acrimony will fade."
Part of Hansen's closing statement didn't sit well with neighbor Leo Frishberg. He said, "The Portland Landmark commission actually did not state that they approve this as a Historic District, what they recommended was that this Historic District proposal should be delayed until the June meeting, to fix the flaws in the survey of homes."
"Keep Eastmoreland Free" advocate Patrick Cummings commented he was "extremely disappointed, but not surprised" by the Board's decision. It'll be challenging for the neighborhood to reunite, said Cummings. "It's going to be difficult when your elected leaders ignore what they' ve been asked to do by their constituents. It's very difficult to trust them going forward."