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Neighbors concerned about demolitions, 'lot splitting'

People with concerns about lot splitting and demolition in Portland attended the first open forum on the subjects on Wednesday evening. It was organized by a number of neighborhood coalition officers and included a panel representing city agencies, developers and nonprofit organizations.

Signs of the demolition and infill process gone amok can be found in almost every yard on Northeast 35th Place.

Neighbors told KOIN 6 News that a home was recently demolished in the area and will soon be replaced with two 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot homes.

According to city documents, 2013 was a record year for demolitions in the Rose City. “And everything indicates 2014 we’ll see even more demolitions than last year,” said Shawn Wood with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

Of the 273 homes demolished last year, about 25 percent to 30 percent involved lot splitting. The Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland says there’s no end in sight.

“Projected growth of Portland metro area for the next 20 years is a little over 700,000,” said Justin Wood with HBA.

Wood explained builders are just meeting the growth demand for homes within the Portland city limits. With the tight urban growth boundary, he claims the only option is higher density in the city.

“There’s not a lot of vacant land in the city of Portland so that has to happen on infill and redevelopment,” said Wood.

Currently, developers are only required to give the community notice when more than one new house is proposed, but neighbors said they now want across the board mandatory notices before all homes are demolished.

Neighbors suggestions at the forum included keeping existing setbacks in place, so if a home is 15-feet from a sidewalk, the replacement must also be 15-feet back.

Those with the Architectural Heritage Center outlined the following four suggestions as well in a recent blog post:

1. Require a notice/delay even when a demolition application and the replacement house permit are filed the same day. Right now, notice is only required by the city when more than one new house is proposed.

2. Change the definition of “demolition” in the city’s development code. Any demolition that leaves any portion of a house still standing, such as a partial foundation wall, is called an alteration or remodel, not a demolition.

3. A mandatory 120-day delay for houses on the Historic Resources Inventory, or at least homes 50-plus years old.

4. Require that existing front and side yard setbacks be maintained for the new house(s).

The builder of the new homes, Rick Bluhm, on Northeast 35th Place said he hears the concerns of the neighbors. “As a whole, I do see their concerns,” he said. “It’s inevitable that this is going to occur and to have someone with my background is restoring vintage homes to be doing these two new builds.”