After over a year of argument, the tangled tale of the Eastmoreland Historic District is about to take another turn

DAVID F. ASHTON - The controvery, reflected on yard signsThe story surrounding whether or not a large portion of the Eastmoreland neighborhood will be designated a National Historic District continues to unfold – and little more will be known until at least August 9.

That's what the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) Historian Ian Johnson recently told THE BEE.

On July 5, SHPO received notice from the National Park Service stating that the agency would return the nomination document for the proposed Eastmoreland Historic District for "procedural errors" related to the Oregon SHPO's inability to provide a total count of owners or objections used to determine owner consent as required by federal rules.

"We're currently under a court-ordered 'stay', so currently, no actions are being taken," Johnson said.

The "stay" to which Johnson referred, which temporarily stops a judicial proceeding through the order of a court, is in connection with a legal action filed by Eastmoreland resident Tom Brown, through his attorneys, in Marion County Circuit Court to halt the Historic District nomination.

When the Circuit Court judge didn't issue a stay, or permanent injunction, Brown's attorneys appealed the case to the Oregon State Court of Appeals (case A165012), which is now considering the matter.

"State Parks asked for an extension for at least three weeks in this [legal] appeal; it was granted on July 17, and their response is due no later than August 9," Johnson said.

During this time, the state office is to organize all of the original Historic District application materials, including all communications, to be presented to the court. "This is a pretty extensive set of records," commented Johnson.

This case has broader implications, other than just to the Eastmoreland Historic District nomination, said Johnson, including property ownership issues that have yet to be resolved at the state level: "Resolving some of the issues in the Eastmoreland application will give us a more informed way to help other neighborhoods who may pursue designating their neighborhood an Historic District in the future."

"From my understanding – and I'm not an attorney – the issue that the SHPO needs to determine is how many actual property owners there are in the proposed historic district," said Derek Blum, co-founder of HEART (Historic Eastmoreland Achieving Results Together), a pro-district organization.

Some of the properties' deeds in the proposed district list multiple names, including those who are deceased; others indicate legal partnerships, individuals, trusts – a wide range of ownership situations.

"Trying to figure out who the owners actually are is part of the additional ownership controversy, including objectors to the district – and whether or not deceased individuals are permitted to 'object' to the designation," Blum told THE BEE.

Federal roles are unclear, Johnson conceded, about whether a surviving owner can cast a vote a vote objecting to an Historic District on behalf of the deceased.

Patrick Cummings, a neighbor active with the "Keep Eastmoreland Free", which is an organization opposing the Historic District, commented, "The reason it is stalled is that it is a flawed process, and has been since the beginning. By June 30, when the National Parks Service closed the process, Historic District opponents presented about 1,040 notarized objections to the SHPO; more than the 1,027 objections needed to immediately prevent national 'Historic' designation.

"My hope is that the neighborhood leaders will acknowledge what a flawed process this is, and shut it down," Cummings said.

HEART's Blum countered, "We believe that the opponents of the Historic District failed to obtain a majority; but our next step is really to wait and see what's going to happen. We're willing to provide additional information to SHPO and the National Parks Service, and if we can help them we will do that, based on everything that's been submitted to date."

Tom Brown declined to comment, and referred us to his attorney, Nathan Morales of the Harrang Long Gary Rudnick law firm.

"We are very pleased that the Court of Appeals issued the stay. We think that this is an important matter that they need to consider," Morales told THE BEE. "I hope that the court requires the state to provide us with the process that it has thus far refused to give us."

Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association President Rod Merrick told THE BEE, "I don't want to speculate on what happens if the appeal isn't dismissed.

"There's a certain amount of frustration I hear, that the opponents are using the legal system in a way that they hope will delay the process. I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the future of the Historic District; I await the verdict of the court."

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