You might have seen a brief item on the Channel 6 evening news back on January 14th; something about homeowners working to move a historic district boundary. I was interviewed, my ninety seconds of fame. I want to thank Tim Becker of KOIN News for accurately reporting the facts. The Alameda-Irvington Overlap Committee (AIOC) has applied to the National Register to have the overlap area plus a block-and-a-half strip to its east excluded from the Irvington National Historic District (HD). Although The Oregonian’s Mike Francis described us as “Irvington residents”, overlap area homeowners are residents of both the Alameda and Irvington neighborhoods. Those of us to the east are residents only of Alameda. Francis described yours truly as “a long-time Irvington resident”, but I am a 34-year Alameda resident. Becker reported that 80% of survey respondents opted to get out of the District, while Francis reported 63% of all property owners opted out. It is interesting to note how differently the statistics were used.
The AIOC held a public meeting on January 14, 2015 to inform area homeowners and others of the acceptance of the “boundary decrease” document and its implications. Flyers announcing the meeting were hand-delivered to each area address by a crew of twenty volunteers, about ten days prior to the meeting. Notices were mailed to landlords. The meeting was attended by over ninety people. Survey statistics and a large map showing the HD and the area to be removed were on display. Ian Johnson from the State Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO) and Nicholas Starin of the City’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) were present. After my introductory remarks, Jim Laubenthal, a member of the AIOC writing team , explained the purpose and rationale of the application document. Starin and Johnson each explained the roles of their respective agencies and how the application process would go forward. A question-and-answer period followed.
Going backward in time, media attention resulted from SHPO’s public notice of acceptance in December, 2014 of AIOC’s document. The application document (fifty pages, plus the revised Irvington document) was submitted by the AIOC after a year-long process of research and compilation by four dedicated AIOC members. The AIOC decision to “secede” was made at a meeting in September, 2013 after a survey conducted by more than twenty area residents revealed a strong majority of homeowners wanted to “get out”. The AIOC decided In March, 2013 to conduct the survey, which each of the 563 participating homeowner signed. The decision to conduct the survey was made after it became clear the Irvington Community Association was not interested in modifying its National Register listing.
This is how the situation developed. Any person or group can propose an area to the National Register for designation as a National Historic District. Proponents decide what the boundaries will be. The proposal must include historic, architectural, etc. data that meet National Register criteria. Local and state boards “advise” the National Register regarding the completeness and the veracity of the application – all good unless verification is lacking. The National Register has the final say on what gets listed. The Irvington Historic Preservation Committee “did everything that was required” in filing their application.
Unlike the AIOC, the proponents of the HD did not ask (survey) or notify individually (meeting notice). The only direct notification to property owners was mailed by the BPS in April, 2010, after the HD application was accepted and partway through the approval process. BPS mailed notices to property owners as a “courtesy”. NR does not require notification of individual owners if the proposed HD has greater than fifty properties. NR requires only a notice in the local newspaper. State law requires notice to individual property owners – except for a National Register proposal. Even though the BPS notice showed a map, many owners disregarded it thinking it only applied to Irvington. Lesson here: When you receive mail from the City or any other government, read and understand it before you recycle it. The only way to block approval of a NR application is to have over 50% of property owners submit individual signed, notarized objection forms to the NR. The boundary-decrease area contains about 15% of the properties in the HD, so the objection-form process was futile.
My initial concern about the HD was that history did not support inclusion of the overlap area. The Irvings were gifted the territory west of NE 24th, never owned property to the east. They left town for Victoria, B.C. in 1859, to return a couple of decades later, minus William Irving who died in 1872. The first Alameda Park School boundary (1915) was NE 22nd. The Alameda Grocery opened at NE 24th and Fremont in 1922. During my fourteen years growing up in Irvington in the 1950s, nearly all of the overlap area was referred to as Alameda. And that is how most property owners see it today; a matter of neighborhood identity.
Pocketbook and property-rights issues are another concern for homeowners. Changes to exteriors of homes and garages over 200 square feet require historic resource review, involving fees and delays. Minor alteration review fees can be as little as $250, but major changes can run many thousands of dollars. Plans may be rejected pending revision. Architects drawings may be required, even for some minor changes, adding to costs. Changes made without approval can result in monetary penalties, which accumulate monthly until the offense is corrected. Some of our neighbors have become very frustrated with these restrictions, which became effective on the day the NR officially listed the HD.
The Alameda Neighborhood Association protested imposition of the HD before it was listed on the NR, and is on record supporting the boundary change. Ironically, in spite of overwhelming constituent support for the boundary change, the Irvington Community Association, which also represents homeowners in the overlap, has stated that it will oppose the boundary change.
AIOC thanks the application writers: Paul Giroux, Jim Laubenthal, Mike Phipps, and Chuck Stuckey for their persistence and many hours of work and thought. Thanks to the more than twenty folks who conducted the survey and delivered flyers. An thanks to the seventy-five overlap neighbors whose input and encouragement gave impetus. For ongoing and additional information about the boundary-decrease process, please visit aiocblog.wordpress.com