Oregon's Court of Appeals has granted Eastmoreland's Tom Brown a two-week stay in his legal fight against a proposed national historic district.
In an order announced Wednesday, June 21, the court agreed to hold up any decision on merits of the historic district until a judge can review Brown's case. The court gave Brown and his attorney until July 5 to respond to the case's May 30 dismissal in Marion County Circuit Court.
Brown sued the State Historic Preservation Offfice and the state Parks and Recreation Department May 9, demanding a contested case hearing on the possible national historic district. But Brown withdrew the case after he said SHPO told him they were going to ask for a continuance, but then Brown took the issue to the Court of Appeals.
Brown's lawsuit claimed that the State Historic Preservation Office did not give those opposed to the designation due process. Brown requested a hearing about the issue, which SHPO denied. Shortly after, SHPO — which had already ruled that they believed it was in the best interest to proceed with the historic district application to the National Park Service — then issued a statement to the National Park Service recommending against listing, for now.
Officials at SHPO said this was because they were unsure of just how many homes were actually in the proposed district, making them uncertain that the application that they had already sent forth was actually accurate. They said this was due to unclear federal rules, and requested more guidance going forward.
Appellant Commissioner James W. Nass wrote in the one-page order, "It is not clear to the court whether the Keeper of the National Register may list the district notwithstanding SHPO's recommendation and whether SHPO's action is the final state action in the process that could lead to the district being placed on the National Register."
'A chance for due process'
Brown says plaintiffs will argue that residents are entitled to a contested case hearing. Residents opposed to the historic designation say they've had minimal ability to stop the application, calling the process undemocratic. Tensions further rose when the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association board voted to proceed with the application despite a majority opposed outnumbered those in favor in a mailed neighborhood poll.
Additionally, Brown says residents were given "only 30 minutes" to present testimony against the designation when SHPO held a meeting with the neighborhood earlier this year to about proceeding with the application to the National Park Service. At that time, SHPO decided it would push forward.
"It was clear at that meeting that the people sitting on the historic council had already made up their minds. So I'm just relieved that we do have a chance for due process," Brown said.
Those opposed don't want some of the design restrictions placed on homes after a designation is placed, and also accuse those in favor of wanting the designation to prevent infill. Those in favor of the designation say that it will prevent demolitions by developers looking to build "McMansions" that are out of character with the neighborhood.
To stop a historic designation, SHPO or the National Park Service must receive a majority of notarized signatures. Brown says they have nearly 1,000 and may only need 20 more to stop it.
The agencies are collecting objections through July 3.
The National Park Service has not yet made a decision in response to SHPO's recommendation that the federal agency not list it.
The National Park Service's decision on the district nomination is expected July 6.