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Groups say city demolition notification should be mandatory, not voluntary

Portlanders are organizing to fight a city proposal to encourage developers to voluntarily notify neighbors when a house is going to be demolished for an infill project.

Members of neighborhood association boards and neighborhood coalition offices say such notifications should always be mandatory for health and safety reasons. As an

example, they point to the recent demolition of an older Eastmoreland-area house that contained asbestos next to an elementary school that was started without state-required precautions.

“DEQ rules require that all asbestos-containing materials be removed from structures before demolition and renovation work,” says Kimberly Koehler, a member of the Land Use Committee of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association.

Neighbors had not been notified of the demolition, but contacted the state Department of Environmental Quality after it started. The remodeling company, Classic Image Homes, says it did not know there was asbestos in the house across the street from Duniway Elementary School until being contacted by DEQ.

A subsequent inspection confirmed the presence of asbestos, which was then removed by workers in hazardous material suits, as required by DEQ rules. A DEQ investigation into the incident is underway.

The proposal to encourage voluntarily notification is being considered by the Development Review Advisory Committee, a 17-member appointed board that advises the city’s Bureau of Development Services. A subcommittee of the group is drafting a proposal, which involves offering pre-printed door hangers to developers to be distributed to homes within 150 feet of houses scheduled to be demolished. The developers would not be required to distribute the fliers, however.

The proposal could be presented to the full advisory committee on June 19. Opponents are preparing to testify against it at the meeting. They include members of the boards of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association and Southeast Uplift coalition office, who will offer alternative proposals. One would require inspections for hazardous materials — including asbestos and lead paint — before any house could be demolished. They also support mandatory neighbor notifications of all demolitions.

Infill issues take center stage

The fight over the notification requirement is just one battle being waged on the growing number of infill developments in Portland. Although many neighbors and their representatives have complained about such projects in the past, the number dropped significantly during the Great Recession, when practically all development ground to a halt. But since the economy began to recover a few years ago, the number of demolitions for infill projects has increased significantly.

According to Bureau of Development Services statistics, about 230 demolition permits were issued in 2013, an increase of more than 40 percent from 2011. Most were issued along with construction permits, eliminating the need for neighborhood notification. In addition, around 2,700 alteration and addition permits were issued in 2013, an increase of 370 from 2011. They included projects where a majority of the home was demolished.

Such issues will be discussed at an upcoming forum on Demolition, Residential Infill and Housing Affordability in Portland Neighborhoods. It will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on June 11 at Concordia University’s Luther Hall Auditorium, 2811 N.E. Holman St.

The forum is being sponsored by four neighborhood coalition offices, including Central Northeast Neighbors, North Portland Neighborhood Services, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods and Southeast Uplift. The panel is expected to include home builders, housing and community organizers, and representatives from the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and the Bureau of Development Services.

The city has started addressing some of the concerns expressed by the neighborhood representatives. In addition to the notification proposal in the works, BDS recently reinterpreted an existing rule to require developers to always notify neighbors of demolition projects that will replace an existing home with more than one house. BDS still requires no notification if the developer applies for a demolition permit and a permit to build a single house at the same time, a practice opposed by the neighborhood representatives.

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