City works to make historic district living less of a hassle

City works to make historic district living less of a hassle »Play Video
While the city of Portland works to make the permit process faster and less expensive in historic districts, some residents in the Buckman neighborhood oppose becoming a historic district because they say it will limit what they can do to their homes.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Thousands of homeowners who live in Portland's historic districts may soon find it a little easier to call them home.

The city passed a new code Wednesday that speeds up and simplifies what some homeowners called a needlessly long and tedious process of making even the most basic home repairs.

But some residents have resisted the idea of becoming a historic district because of the hassle.

If you're in a historic district, you have to apply to get approval for even basic home improvements like replacing a window. That application alone can cost $900 just to apply for city approval, and then sometimes it can take months to get approval.

Now the city's trying to cut that time in half and eventually cut the cost in an effort to preserve the historic neighborhoods and keep the homeowners happy.

But it doesn't sound all that appealing to everyone.

"We've really gotten strong community support opposing the historic district," said Greg Moulliet, who lives in the Buckman neighborhood. "We've got about 200 objections right now."

In the Buckman neighborhood, he's rallied his neighbors with a "Keep Buckman Free" campaign. He's not interested in the historic district because the city would have ultimate say over a lot of those exterior home improvements.

The standard has been six to eight weeks for approval, and Moulliet says the cost of applying would limit what he would be able to do with his home.

"It sounds really expensive and difficult and time consuming," he said. "A lot of people have to hire an architect to get their designs drawn up to go through the design review process. So it's just an additional cost and expense there."

But the city is trying to change that perception.

"We do need to review it. It's required by state law. But that doesn't mean we can't do it faster. And that doesn't also mean we can't lower the fee," said Tim Heron with the Bureau of Development Services.  

Heron helped craft the new code that speeds up approval time and cuts it in half. He said soon the city should cut the cost in half as well. But even with the changes, some homeowners say their hands still feel tied.

"So we're not people who don't like old things," Moulliet said. "It's not like we don't like historic things – we do – but we feel this is a heavy handed way to go about it."

Starting May 1 the new changes go into effect that should cut approval time for small home improvement projects to a couple weeks instead of a couple months.

According to the city's Bureau of Development Services, later this month it is going to submit an application to the city to try to get those costs cut in half, as well. So instead of the more than $900 application fee, it will cost about $500.