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Oldest house in Lake Oswego is gifted to the society after a legal battle to preserve the home ends in compromise.

COURTESY PHOTO - The Carman House recently was donated to the Lake Oswego Preservation Society.Lake Oswego's historic Carman House will soon be in the hands of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society after a long battle to preserve the home.

On July 21, it was announced that the Mary Cadwell Willmot Trust will donate the house — which is the oldest home in Lake Oswego — to LOPS.

"Our first priority when we assume ownership will be to place a conservation easement on

the house and to secure a listing on the National Register of Historic Places," said LOPS president Jon Gustafson in a news release sent July 21. "We will also begin the process of seeking partners to repair and restore this historic house. The intent is for it to remain true to its original purpose and function once it is restored."

Built in 1857 by pioneer couple Waters and Lucretia Carman, the Carman House sits on 1.25 acres at 3811 Carman Drive, part of a land claim originally signed by President Andrew Jackson.

The Lake Oswego Historic Resources Advisory Board designated the house and an adjacent barn as historic properties in 1990. At the time, the house was owned by the Carmans' great-grandson, Richard Wilmot, and his wife, Mary.

Three years after Richard Wilmot died in 1998, Mary Wilmot passed her full ownership of the house to their children, making Marjorie Hanson, who currently manages the house, and her two brothers trustees of the Mary Cadwell Wilmot Trust.

In a former interview with Pamplin Media Group, the family expressed a preference to sell the property to a developer, who most likely would demolish the house and subdivide the land.

The family struggled to find an interested buyer because the historic designation prevents demolition, which is why the trust first invoked ORS 197.772 — which states that property owners can refuse to consent to a historic designation — in 2013 and asked the city of Lake Oswego to remove the designation. The City Council at the time agreed to that request in a 4-3 vote, but LOPS challenged the decision.

The case went before the Land Use Board of Appeals and eventually made its way to the Oregon Supreme Court in 2015. The following year, the Supreme Court ruled to protect the historic designation.

"We are happy to have come to an agreement and compromise to preserve this important house, and we look forward to working with the family to help tell their story," Gustafson said in the news release.

Gustafson said the compromise was contingent on finding a way to preserve the house while also having it be developed, and they teamed up to make that happen.

"That's where if it really could be guaranteed the house would truly be protected after subdivision, it needed a good steward, and I think that's where the preservation society's experience and mission is to do just that," Gustafson said. "We'll be able to ensure the house is permanently preserved, and I think with that in place, it makes alteration of the landmark designation and subdivision sort of acceptable."

The society has worked with developer Graham Colton and other key players on a preservation compromise that preserves the home and a 21,000-square-foot lot, while still allowing for five new lots to be developed into single-family homes on the remaining parcel.

Both Colton and Hanson expressed pleasure in the fact that the house would be preserved — and for Colton, a plan that also would allow for development on the site.

"The house and property have been in my family for generations, and I've always dreamed that we could find a way to both preserve the house and to help share a piece of Oregon's and our family's history," said Hanson in the news release.

The next step is for the city to modify the historic landmark designation and then the subdivision will need to meet the rest of the city's requirements.

"The whole thing is contingent on the necessary city approvals, but everybody involved has looked at it. We're all confident it does meet all the rules," Gustafson said. "It's just an amazing saga of this house that is just so old … (It has) taken this wild roller-coaster ride to get where we are today. It does seem like it's pretty momentous."

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