Overwhelming objections doom Eastmoreland Historic District
Portland's proposed contentious Eastmoreland Historic District appears to be dead.
The State Historic Preservation Office reported Wednesday, April 25, that opponents of the district submitted enough objections to prevent the neighborhood's listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The office resubmitted the nomination Wednesday to the National Park Service with the objections for an official determination of eligibility. The decision to list or not list rests with the park service, but federal rules say if a majority of property owner object, the district could not be listed on the history register.
State officials said about 5,952 (about 82.8 percent) of the district's 7,188 property owners submitted letters of objection. Nearly 5,000 of the objections came from recently formed trusts created by many property owners. One Southeast Lambert Street property owner created a trust with 1,000 owners of his house, effectively giving him 1,000 objections. A January 2018 state Department of Justice opinion did not object to the creation of trusts and muliple owners as part of the process.
Tom Brown, a Southeast 30th Avenue resident who fought the historic district in court, said the state's decision was "a little anti-climactic."
"I'm really happy that in all of this convoluted process somehow we won," Brown said. "I'm still kind of disappointed we had to go through this."
Brown said he believed the historic district was "clearly a tactic to stop development."
"This was never about protecting history, it was just a way to stop demolitions and development from happening in this neighborhood," he said. "I think it's very unfair that the wealthy parts of town can use this loophole of a program to prevent development."
Joanne Carlson, the neighborhood historian who supported the historic district, said the state decision was "exactly what I expected." She also slammed the State Historic Preservation Office for accepting objections from nearly 5,000 trusts created by property owners who opposed the district.
"The state of Oregon government is unwilling to stand up to this misuse of the democratic system," Carlson said. "If you do the math, the opposition lost under the SHPO and National Park Service rules that we have been following all through the process. The opposition knew it and found a way around the rules."
Derek Blum, co-founder of Historic Eastmoreland Achieving Results Together (HEART), said in a statement that the state decision was "an act of cowardice."
"The SHPO declined to end the abuse of objection trusts and instead empowered opponents of historic preservation," Blum said. "We gave the SHPO warning about the dangers of endorsing this practice, and rather than containing this threat to historic preservation, they chose to wash their hands of the matter and submitted the nomination to (the National Park Service) to rid themselves of the controversy. We will continue to represent the will of the residents of Eastmoreland to list the historic district in the National Register of Historic Places."
Determining number of owners
Eastmoreland's proposed historic nomination was discussed in early 2016, submitted to state officials for comments in November 2016 and reviewed in February 2017 by the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation. The proposed nomination touched off a neighborhood tussle, pitting people who supported the plan as a way to avoid infill development against others who opposed the district as a challenge to their property rights.
The nomination went to the National Park Service (keeper of the National Register of Historic Places) in May 2017, but Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Christine Curran asked that it be returned because of problems determining the number of owners in the proposed district boundary.
Brown took the state agency to court twice, including one request to be heard by the state Supreme Court after his case was shot down by the Oregon Court of Appeals. Brown and his lawyers argued that Oregon's historic district process was flawed and the state Historic Preservation Office didn't follow proper procedures in Eastmoreland's nomination. One case was dismissed in March. Another challenge is pending before the court of appeals.