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The twists and turns that this neighborhood conflict has taken are close to historic themselves

DAVID F. ASHTON - The conflict drags on in Eastmorland...The Eastmoreland Historic District process imbroglio reached its peak in late April, leading to a ruling released on the morning of April 25, hours away from when this issue of THE BEE would go to press, by the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Before the SHPO deadline for receiving objections, Historic District opponent Tom Brown, a member of "Keep Eastmoreland Free", told THE BEE that he'd dropped off 5,000 notarized objections at the SHPO office, in keeping with rules provided by the federal and state agencies.

"According to the rules, we learned that one property could be divided into separate trusts, and each of these trusts would count as a vote," Brown said. "Three additional property owners did this, as did Patrick Cummings, the first person [to divide a property ownership into multiple HBD trusts]."

Patrick Cummings did not respond to a request for an interview with THE BEE.

The new state ruling, which itself might now become the subject of a lawsuit by proponents, validates that unusual tactic by opponents: Turning a single property into 1,000 "trusts", and thus – in this case – turning five opponents into 5,000 objectors, and overwhelming what previously appeared to be a small majority of property owners in Eastmoreland favoring the Historic District plan.

The original nomination for the District was received in February of 2017, and was reviewed by the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation, a volunteer group of people with interest and skill in Oregon history. The committee recommended listing Eastmoreland in the National Register based on its historic qualities. Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Christine Curran agreed, and the nomination was submitted to the NPS in May of 2017. However, Curran asked that the nomination be returned to the office due to unresolved problems determining the number of owners in the proposed district boundary. Without an accurate count of owners, the SHPO was unable to calculate the percentage of objections. The nomination was returned in June 2017.

Federal rules did not clearly answer how to resolve complications arising from deceased owners (under some circumstances, it turns out, they can still "vote") and trusts, among other things, so Oregon SHPO staff requested guidance from federal and state officials. The SHPO received guidance from the NPS in November 2017 and advice from the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) in January 2018 – before the device of turning one property owner into 1,000 by creating that many trusts for a single property had turned up.

Proponents decry 'objection trusts'

Himself in favor of establishing the Historic District, "Historic Eastmoreland Achieving Results Together" (HEART) co-founder Derek Blum commented before the new ruling on the action of individuals creating "1,000 objection trusts" from their property: "Thus far, the SHPO or NPS have not stated whether such a scheme is permissible or will be allowed, but they haven't said that it is not," Blum said. "Until I hear otherwise, I would assume that these objections will be counted."

When asked if proponents of the Historic District nomination might use the same strategy, Blum replied, "I believe supporters could use a similar technique, but these kinds of tricks and loopholes have not been exploited by supporters."

Further, Blum didn't have kind words for the state office involved with historic neighborhood designations. "Beyond this obvious abuse of process [by opponents], the Oregon SHPO is also complicit; by neglecting to perform their duties last year, they have broken the process and created the conditions that increased the likelihood of this abuse, which I had foreseen.

"SHPO is now operating without very much transparency," Blum went on. "They have stopped answering questions, and now fall back on their default statement that they are simply following the guidance of the NPS and DOJ."

Blum said that SHPO officials either cannot, or will not, provide answers to questions, "which suggests that they are ill-equipped to administer the national register program in Oregon".

Objectors 'live in fear'

As for the opponents, the Historic District nomination has left neighbors divided, Brown said. "Many Keep Eastmoreland Free people have 'stepped back' from taking public positions on this issue, due to the abuse they've received from their neighbors. Following the rules, we've done all that we can."

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