It’s a Wrap! Final Thoughts on The Eastmoreland Project

It’s a Wrap! Final Thoughts on The Eastmoreland Project

Reflections on PR’s Duty, Podcasting & Making a Decision

Thank you for listening to me muddle through the discovery process regarding the proposed historic district (HD) in Eastmoreland. What could have very well been an indulgent project began as a way to find out the truth by listening to both sides of the issue. I didn’t want to staunchly remain within my own bubble of like-minded people, as we all so often do. So, I thought I’d ask some smart people some questions, that’s all. But then the idea of recording the conversations came to mind.

Recording conversations is a tool I learned from journalists. The first time this happened to me was when I was re-branding the Street of Dreams through PR. A journalist recorded our conversation with a hidden microphone. He didn’t tell me he was recording, but I should have known better. Ever since, I’ve realized that recording conversations could be the only way to capture their essence within a particular space in time. This helps me create press releases, articles or blog posts out of the important things my clients say. Of course, I always keep the recording device front and center.

But then the podcast was born — enabling emotions to be captured that simply cannot be translated through the written-word. In a world where information is hitting us from every angle, podcasts can help us download messages from the whole perspective. There’s so much more to be consumed than a 140-character tweet can give justice to. Also, people aren’t sitting down to read blogs anymore. Always in motion, our lives are too busy. With the invention of earbuds, podcasts enable us to learn as we go.

So, I thought, “Well, if I’m talking to informed and interesting people, I might as well record the conversations.” This is a larger issue than affects the HD but I’m also seeing that someone has to fill the balanced journalistic role that the media used to fill. The other day, my mother heard a Willamette Week reporter on the Lars Larson show talking about how the Laurelhurst HD was essentially a “rich” people’s problem. Well, that might be true but I didn’t know that real journalists were paid to state their opinions. Someone has to pick up the slack and present things fairly.

You’ll notice that I treated everyone the same in each episode, viewing each hour as their own sacred platform, guiding them so they are presented in the best light. That might be swaying from a journalistic integrity point-of-view, but I am a PR person. The best PR person can see the positive in every situation, business and person. Our jobs are to let that shine in the world. I hope that in some aspects I was able to do that with each of my special guests.

Now, as far as what am I going to do? I did say that we’d walk through my own decision-making process together. But over the course of these six weeks I’ve come to understand that people don’t care about what I’m going to do. Honestly, if they did, I believe we would have gotten a little more engagement with the podcasts. It is unfortunate that per NextDoor’s rules we were forced to remove the posts from the main NextDoor page — relegated to posting on only the opposition and proponent group pages where we’re definitely preaching to the choir.

So, what would I preach? Nothing. I’ve found that this is a personal decision without an answer. Or rather, positive aspects are found in both answers. Your gut instinct tells you where you’re aligned and my instinct doesn’t have anything to do with yours. But really, you ask, what are you doing? Nothing. It’s what I’d wished I’d done in the beginning. I trust that the process will unfold the way it’s supposed to. No matter how hard we try, none of us can control ultimate outcomes. Sometimes the best course of action is none.

P.S. A note from the husband, Mike Rosenberg

Just a bit of clarification on Amy’s points above. If you didn’t listen to the entire series, you may not know that Amy and I both signed letters of opposition in the early days before this podcast series was created. So, by doing nothing now, we are not actively in support of the HD. This is how I (and a lot of other people) think a process like this one should be. If you want to make a change and add regulations like an HD, the people should have to do something to support it, not the other way around.

Now, if I hadn’t opposed already, would I be getting my Objection in before the deadline? I’m not totally sure. But by not doing something, we would have been in favor of a huge change taking place in our neighborhoods. Weird. So in summary, on paper we both ended up opposed to this HD in Eastmoreland, but not by much.

What’s Next?

I appreciate the passion and effort of everyone saving our neighborhood, as both sides feel they are. But there’s bigger fish to fry. If nothing else comes out of this new podcast series, know that it has inspired us to continue with other issues. Next we’ll be examining food insecurity in Oregon.

This is the final episode in The Eastmoreland Project, the first series of StreetTalk, a podcast about Portland’s ever-changing communal landscape.

Episode 106: The Eastmoreland Project — Randy Sebastian

Episode 106: The Eastmoreland Project — Randy Sebastian

Home-Grown Home Builder Weighs in on Historic District

As I sat down to interview Randy Sebastian, owner of Renaissance Homes, about the proposed historic district (HD) in Eastmoreland, he recalls humble beginnings leading to his perch as the number one home builder in Portland and Lake Oswego. Before building his first set of homes in the 80’s he was operating a food truck selling the perfect concoction of shaved ice, hot dogs and coffee. He later moved on to home building as he thought working outside, without the confines of a dreary office, represented the ultimate freedom.

After learning a little bit about Renaissance Homes and how Randy managed to stay in the game after creating a new company resulting from a Chapter 11 during the housing bubble, we turned to the drawbacks of the HD.

Since I am kind of running out of time (and want to enjoy what’s left of my Friday night!) I’m going to have to summarize the main HD drawbacks from Randy’s point-of-view. I thought I’d better get this posted before tomorrow since an easy way to Object to the HD is happening tomorrow (this Saturday) at Eastmoreland’s annual neighborhood garage sale. Notaries will be on-hand helping you Object to the HD (bring your ID) tomorrow at the Cooney Residence on the corner of Woodstock and Reed College Place from roughly 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

First of all, I’ll begin by stating that Randy said he’s only demolished two homes in the part of Eastmoreland that would be within the HD. Always entertaining, he relayed interesting stories about those two separate situations. I mentioned he’d need to represent all developers in the interview because it’s not just his company doing the demolitions. He’s fine doing that but said that there really haven’t been very many demolitions in Eastmoreland proper. This is because most of the homes are well-maintained and tearing those down doesn’t pencil out for many developers.

He says developers are looking for deals in which the land is more valuable than the home that sits on top of it. There aren’t too many of those in Eastmoreland. It’s generally due to poor maintenance that the land would become more valuable than the home. The damp Pacific Northwest makes it easy to let a home get away from you. A home riddled with mold and mildew, combined with an outdated floor plan, will go down in value. But in-migration to the state and Portland’s increasing popularity mean that our land values can only rise. Especially on a double lot!

This is where Randy brings in the old lady example, which I believe is valid. Let’s say an older widow hasn’t been able to maintain her house, creating a tear-down situation because mold and other issues make it too expensive to re-do the home. A developer will pay more for this type of home than the average potential buyer because of the land sitting underneath it. The insurmountable issues make the home too expensive for the flipper to re-do. While the new family is either overwhelmed by the work the home would require or finding out they can’t afford it when factoring in the remodeling costs. Or worst case scenario for the young family: they happily submit a bid for the home, only to be let down discovering they can’t get the mortgage because the home needs too much (this is a real concern, I remember this happening even in the good old days of selling real estate when banks would lend mortgages to your dog).

Here’s Randy’s main argument: It’s not fair for us to put something into place that would ultimately ensure that the little old lady made less money when trying to cash out on what’s likely her largest investment. The developers would pay her the most money for her house and they won’t even bother looking for opportunities within an HD.

Randy warns that if we put the HD into place all of us will feel the affects in our property’s resale value. Like it or not, we’re all probably going to sell our homes one day so we have to think about our future buyers. Whether or not they are developers, many buyers will not want to live in an HD because of the perceived restrictions it might bring to future remodeling projects. Real estate brokers warn that restrictions decrease your buyer pool. Randy says that even if we, as sellers, know that the HD process is easy (which he laughs about as he’s not too sure it would be) and the fees aren’t too exorbitant, many buyers could still be scared away.

I can’t remember if it was off or on-air but at some point in the conversation Randy said that real deals can be found in Irvington, not necessarily in the homes that are completely “done” but in the fixer-uppers because you wouldn’t be competing with any of the flippers nor developers. This sounds great to potential buyers, but how do you think the home sellers in Irvington feel about this?

This is Episode 6 of The Eastmoreland Project, the first series of StreetTalk, a podcast about Portland’s ever-changing communal landscape.

Now or Never: Deadline Is Actually Wednesday 6/28

Now or Never: Deadline Is Actually Wednesday 6/28

Apparently I’ve been looking at things a little too simplistically. I guess that is how I’m able to do crazy things like launch podcasts without any experience and get a puppy when I’m recovering from a major back injury. No one ever praised me for my IQ level and I’m not saying my little plans and designs are ever successful.

So….it’s kind of like now or never to either Object to the HD or Rescind your original objection. Both groups have said we have until Wednesday of next week to get something in because it needs to be sent through registered mail to Washington DC. I won’t bore you with the details.

But you might need to plan ahead. What?!? I obviously don’t know much about that concept! Here are the instructions from both sides:

Instructions from HEART

Historic Eastmoreland Achieving Results Together (HEART) is having a “Rescind Party,” which is of course open to people who want to rescind their objections to the HD, and any other HD supporters who want to enjoy beer, wine, food, and the help of an on-site notary who can rescind your objection in a jiffy as long as you bring your ID.

WHEN: This Sunday, June 26 from 5 – 8 p.m.

WHERE: The Lamb Residence @ 7342 SE 29th

*If you cannot make this event, a local notary makes house calls. Contact Heart.

Instructions from Keep Eastmoreland Free

Keep Eastmoreland Free (KEF) will have notaries visible during this weekend’s garage sale. Bring your ID as you scrounge of goodies at the sale.

WHEN: This Saturday (June 25) during the Garage Sale from roughly 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

WHERE: The Cooney Residence, corner of Woodstock and Reed College Place

*If you cannot make this event, a local notary makes house calls. See below to contact KEF.

Patty Brandt is happy to arrange objections only. She can be reached at 503-771-0376 or [email protected] If you’d rather do it yourself, Patty can email you the form. But they’re encouraging folks who are sending on their own to use registered mail or FedEx so that they can confirm receipt by Friday, June 30th, allowing one spare business day before the Monday, July 3rd deadline.

Episode 105: The Eastmoreland Project — Richard De Wolf

Episode 105: The Eastmoreland Project — Richard De Wolf

Richard De Wolf, Arciform
A Life Dedicated to Restoring Vintage Structures

This week I stopped by local design-build company, Arciform, and interviewed the owner, Richard De Wolf. Looking back on all of these episodes, this has been the most helpful and informative to me. This might be because Richard and I somehow speak the same language of homes.

Richard has made his career and lifestyle out of a love for vintage structures. The career aspect is apparent since he has a 70-person restoration and design company specializing in vintage and historic structures that “sometimes sneaks modern in there as well.” He’s a current board member of Restore Oregon and past board member of the Architectural Heritage Center.

The lifestyle aspect gets more interesting. Richard and his wife/business partner, Anne De Wolf, recently purchased a home in Northwest Portland’s Alphabet District. It’s a historic landmark in a historic district (HD) and on the national historic registry. Take that in for a moment.

This guy knows his way around an HD. But what’s most important is the seven-story low income building perched directly behind his home. To say that you can’t have diversity and a mix of income levels living in an HD is untrue according to Richard. In fact, he says his best neighbors live in this low income building. Northwest has been an HD for a long time and it’s representative of so much more than just pretty homes.

De Wolf Home

Richard De Wolf’s house is historically designated, in a historic district and a historical landmark. Additionally, it is next to low-income housing.

Since Richard is personally remodeling his historic home and his company has done so much HD work, he really puts my mind at ease. He reminds me that the HD only has issue with what’s happening on the exterior of the home, on what can be seen from the street, not the back or sides (unless you’re a corner lot). So, Richard says, some of the energy efficiency complaints we’ve been hearing are invalid. Of course people should incorporate new energy-efficient furnaces and water heaters into their historic structures. But both of those examples represent changes to the inside of the home and therefore out of HD review.

When we’re talking about exterior changes to the home, we’re mainly talking about windows, siding and solar panels. Our conversation goes into all of this. Especially windows. According to Richard you’ll never be able to cut your energy bill down by a third (as common myth suggests) if you replace all your windows with new double hung windows. It’s simply not possible.

Richard actually has another company, called Versatile Wood Products, so it would behoove him to sell us some new windows. However, he’s telling us NOT to buy new windows just for energy efficiency purposes if our existing windows seem to be operating fine. He’s that kind of guy.

I mentioned that before I got to know him, I was surprised that his company was gaga over home restoration, rather than just remodeling as needed without much thought about original charm. I figured remodeling with the home’s character in mind was harder logistically and more expensive for both the homeowner and remodeler. Richard explained that it’s easier to maintain a building than it is to change it.

“Historic windows will last as long as you can maintain them, while newer materials will only last until their time for the landfill,” he says. “The older materials are easier to work with. Wood is easier to maintain.”

Richard muses that most people who purchase an older home aren’t going to want to completely change it, which is what the design review process attempts to control. Maintaining and repairing the home’s exterior isn’t an HD concern. It’s about big additions or remodels. When I asked if I’d have to pay 250 “bucks” for someone to tell me that it’s okay to switch my front door to a more historically appropriate style, Richard hinted that we only have to involve the HD if a permit is required — warning that he is not a lawyer. So any exterior work completed by homeowners or contractors may be done without involving the HD if a permit isn’t already required.

When I wondered if the HD would slow our remodeling projects down, Richard advises that all big projects require planning so the HD is addressed in the beginning when the exterior envelope is also being reviewed. “The only thing HDs slow down is the demolition of affordable housing,” he says.

The only regulations an Eastmoreland HD would immediately put into place regard demolitions. Then 18 months to three years later, we’d start looking at the design review process as a neighborhood, collectively deciding our unique process.

When I asked what he thought the biggest drawback to an HD was, Richard confided that running the extra paperwork through will be annoying for contractors who haven’t done it before. But after the first couple of times it will become second-nature, just like getting a permit. The homeowner wouldn’t really feel much burden because again, you’d only involve the HD when undertaking big changes, which most of us use contractors for. So the extra hurdles would fall to them.

Even if the HD doesn’t go through, listen to this episode if you’re planning a future remodel because we discuss common remodeling myths towards the end. Richard tells homeowners how to protect themselves, offers cost considerations and brings energy-efficiency tips into the entire conversation.

Richard leaves us with Arciform’s mission, which is Share Your Story. “We believe every house and building has a story. Thank you for letting me share mine,” he ends.

This is Episode 5 of The Eastmoreland Project, the first series of StreetTalk, a podcast about Portland’s ever-changing communal landscape.

Episode 104: The Eastmoreland Project — Mary Kyle McCurdy

Episode 104: The Eastmoreland Project — Mary Kyle McCurdy

Mary Kyle McCurdy on Different Historic Districts, RIP to Curb Demolitions and 1,000 Friends of Oregon

Eastmoreland neighbor and Deputy Director for nonprofit 1,000 Friends of Oregon, Mary Kyle McCurdy, came over to record a podcast interview for StreetTalk this week! Mary Kyle is against the creation of a historic district (HD) for various reasons. A big reason is that she believes this HD — which is through the federal (or national) level — is more stringent and doesn’t allow for a democratic process, “which is how we do things in America,” she says.

Mary Kyle points to another type of HD which she believes is a better option because it’s local and would involve discussions with the city and more collaboration with each other. When I mentioned that I’d heard opinions that we might want to leave the city out of our HD process, she firmly stated that we live in the city in a neighborhood that enjoys many perks that we can’t take all the credit for. For example, our schools, golf course and more have been helped along by city processes and outside groups.

When I brought up the demolition-happy developers (as I’m found of saying) she said the national HD is the wrong tool to curb demolitions. She agrees that demolitions are an issue but they’re a city-wide concern that isn’t just tied to the confines of our neighborhood. Other neighborhoods are being affected more than Eastmoreland, so if we enforce the HD only as means for curbing demolitions here, additional stress will be placed on more vulnerable areas, she states, wondering how fair that really is.

Mary Kyle offered knowledge about Residential Infill Project (RIP) in relation to this hot topic. According to her, demolitions could slow if it passes because it confines the scale of new construction. In other words, new homes built to replace tear-downs would be smaller. Mary Kyle believes this could be a drawback to some developers, making the entire project (and resulting demolition) not worth their while — smaller homes may not demand high asking prices and those building specific models may be unable to fit within the proposed scale requirements.

The way in which Mary Kyle described how RIP could bring new housing units to a city that must meet the demands of newcomers flocking to our area sounded great to me! With Oregon continuously being a top “in-migration” state, one has to wonder where we are going to put these people, especially when we have HD’s popping up all over town as an innocent means of preserving historic integrity? In turn, could we be leaving little room for density?

I mused aloud that RIP’s highlights could enable higher-density while also preserving history through an HD because Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) can be part of any HD we choose to put forth. Mary Kyle warned that RIP has not yet passed as many local HD supporters have strongly opposed it. So again, we are in a dark place in terms of knowledge about what the future will bring, regardless of if an HD moves forward or not.

This is Episode 4 of The Eastmoreland Project, the first series of StreetTalk, a podcast about Portland’s ever-changing communal landscape.

Episode 103: The Eastmoreland Project — Nerdletta Erdlettanay

Episode 103: The Eastmoreland Project — Nerdletta Erdlettanay

Nerdletta Erdlettanay on Portland’s Affordability Crisis Amid an Epidemic of Demolitions

This week I put a face to the Nerdletta Erdlettanay name — a cover a local IT professional uses in order to freely voice her research regarding Portland’s affordability crisis. A researcher and analyst by trade, “Nerdletta’s” website Demand Affordability goes into the weeds to show how demolitions throughout Portland are unwittingly gentrifying whatever is left of Portland’s diversity, whether that be in the form of race or class.

Nerdletta’s fight for perseveration isn’t really about preserving homes, it’s about affordability. She argues that development is replacing sound, habitable and oftentimes affordable homes with more expensive dwellings. Eastmoreland aside, Nerdletta argues that developers are building for a demographic that hasn’t yet arrived, with the replacement homes priced out of reach for the majority of people that live in the affected area.

This type of redevelopment impacts the surrounding land value. Maybe this is great for homeowners looking to reap the benefits of increased land value, but according to Nerdletta, about 50 percent of Portland’s single family homes are occupied by renters. Not only does Nerdletta wonder where the displaced are supposed to go, she understands displacement to put more strain on the market — exacerbating pricing pressure — and mostly harming vulnerable communities.

According to Nerdletta, this trend is especially worrisome in Portland for two reasons:

  1. Oregon is the only “owner consent” state, meaning that an owner can decide if their property will be historically designated (granting protection against having a historically significant structure torn down). Nerdletta uses a Frank Lloyd Wright example: if a preservationist group wants to designate one of Lloyd Wright’s creations as “historic,” the owner can say no, therefore opening the surrounding area up to losing the piece of history through demolition. Oregon is the only state in the nation to require “owner consent” for historic designation.
  2. Portland doesn’t subject demolition permits to any reviews that the city could deny unless they are within a designated Historic District (HD).

Combining these two factors creates “a recipe for wholesale development.” According to Nerdletta, all you have to do is look at this Portland Maps image to see demolitions closing in on certain areas where there are protections, such as long-term home retention or HD’s. She found that more than 1,400 single family homes and duplexes were demolished in Portland over the last 5 years. Remember half of these homes may have been inhabited by renters.

*This is the cornerstone of the issue, so if you don’t have time to listen to the whole episode, skip ahead to around the 57-minute mark where Nerdletta explains that these two factors are the definition of gentrification. (Yes, these are long podcasts! I just throw some ear buds in and clean, drive or walk while listening to podcasts).

What does Eastmoreland have to do with this? Nerdletta and other experts state that HD’s are the only way we can stop the city’s demolition craze.

“HD’s put the breaks on [demolitions]. We talk about Portland being a green city and livable for everyone but if we allow the bulldozers to tear everything down, where do we draw the line? Can we just have something that says this is meaningful?” she asks.

In an attempt to preserve our housing stock, Nerdletta muses that there must be reasonable ways to restrict the demolition of sound, habitable housing. When I bring up the Residential Infill Project (RIP), Nerdletta says that RIP looks great on paper, especially as it nods to affordability, but it was supposed to be about “filling in, which isn’t what they are doing, they are tearing down.” She adds that you can fill in under an HD.

If a middle ground prohibited the demolition of sound, habitable housing — unless the reasons for that demolition met affordable housing criteria — Nerdletta firmly believes that there wouldn’t be such a need for HD’s. “Unfortunately, HD’s are the only regulatory tool that gives anyone the authority to say yes or no. Unfettered demolition isn’t good for anyone.”

She reminds us that HD’s across the U.S. look different. They’re not always about “homes being encased with amber,” she jokes. Their primary goal is to protect cultural heritage and history from being erased. “What makes traveling to Europe fantastic is that you get a sense of place and time — a visual narrative that is the collective memory of civilization.

This is Episode 3 of The Eastmoreland Project, the first series of StreetTalk, a podcast about Portland’s ever-changing communal landscape.