Citing technical reasons, the state is recommending against turning the Southeast Portland neighborhood of Eastmoreland into a historic district—at least for now.

In an application filed today with the National Park Service, the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office asks for more time to sort through the technical matter of how many owners have property in the neighborhood.

That's important because notarized objections from 50 percent of private owners, plus one, would halt the process of designating the neighborhood a historic district.

Since last fall, the fight over historic designation has pitted neighbor against neighbor in the affluent neighborhood south of Reed College. Last week, an Eastmoreland resident sued the state in an effort to halt the process.

So far opponents have submitted 925 objections. By the state's current count, there are 2,074 property owners. But state officials say they need more time to get an accurate count of how many owners there are.

"While the submitted owner list represents our best efforts to date, concerns about it have been raised and unsettled ownership issues remain," says Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Christine Curran in a statement.

"As a result, we do not have confidence that the list is indeed complete and accurate. I therefore do not recommend that the Eastmoreland Historic District be listed in the National Register of Historic Places at this time. Should the National Park Service concur with my finding, the Oregon SHPO asks that the nomination be returned to our office with guidance on how to resolve the procedural requirements issue."

To meet the deadlines of the process, the state had to reach an official determination today, but essentially asked for more time. The complications come from how to count ownership trusts and other ways of own property.

The Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association pushed for the historic district, calling for adding an extra safeguard against demolishing homes.

Opponents noted the neighborhood hadn't seen significant demolitions.

During the city’s Comprehensive Plan hearings, the neighborhood association had previously pushed for zoning that would have barred increasing density in the neighborhood.
After that effort failed, the neighborhood association began pushing for the historic district designation, which in effect would serve as an end-run around the city’s planning and zoning process.

"The board's worked hard for about three years to try to get the city to deal with this through coding, zoning and through the comprehensive plan," Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association's president, Tom Hanson, told OPB last fall.

"While we had considered historic district designation in the past, we had thought the other mechanisms were more appropriate to work through the city. But when they were not fruitful, then we moved to considering historic district designation."

Update 1:50 pm: 

Robert McCullough, treasurer of the neighborhood association and supporter of the historic district designation, was surprised by the state's lack of clarity on who counts as an owner in the neighborhood. "The definition is set out in federal," he says. "We should follow the federal law."

Full press release below:

Oregon State Historic Preservation Office recommends National Park Service not list Eastmoreland on National Register of Historic Places

Salem OR – The Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has submitted an application to the National Park Service prepared by proponents of the Eastmoreland neighborhood in Portland to create a new National Register Historic District. In the submission, the Oregon SHPO recommends against listing the area on the National Register of Historic Places due to an unresolved problem defining the number of owners in the proposed district boundary.

The number of owners is important, since federal application requirements allow the nomination process to stop if more than 50% of the owners object. Without a total count of owners, it isn’t possible for the Oregon SHPO to know whether more than 50% of them object.

The application was received and reviewed by the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation, a volunteer group of people with interest and skill in Oregon history. It recommended listing Eastmoreland on the National Register based on its historic qualities, and in the submission from the Oregon SHPO to the National Park Service, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Christine Curran agrees.

When the original application was submitted for state review in February, the number of owners was based on county tax records and totaled 2,600. State and federal rules don’t clearly answer how to resolve complications arising from deceased owners and trusts, among other circumstances, so Oregon SHPO staff sought guidance from federal and county officials. The number of owners dropped throughout the state’s 90-day evaluation period, and now stands at 2,074. Owners who object must send in a notarized statement, and as of May 12, 925 had done so.

In Curran’s submission to the National Park Service, she says “While the submitted owner list represents our best efforts to date, concerns about it have been raised and unsettled ownership issues remain. As a result, we do not have confidence that the list is indeed complete and accurate. I therefore do not recommend that the Eastmoreland Historic District be listed in the National Register of Historic Places at this time. Should the National Park Service concur with my finding, the Oregon SHPO asks that the nomination be returned to our office with guidance on how to resolve the procedural requirements issue.”

“It’s important to recognize historic neighborhoods and how they reflect Oregon’s history,” Curran added. “Listing on the National Register of Historic Places needs to be done correctly and without ambiguity, and since this one is so close to the 50% mark, we need to resolve the ownership issue cleanly before proceeding.”

The National Park Service can take up to 45 days to review and respond. Public comment and new objections should be submitted to the National Park Service:

Attn: J. Paul Loether, Deputy Keeper

National Park Service

National Register of Historic Places

1849 C St. NW, Mail Stop 7228

Washington, D.C.  20240

… with a copy to the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office at oregon.heritage@oregon.gov.