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Jim Heuer

Your observations on the "Stealth" nature of the Historic Landmarks Commission are right on. Like you, I have no quarrel with Art DeMuro. He is as committed to historic preservation in Portland as anyone, and his Venerable Properties company has done some very fine restoration and adaptive reuse work. But...

Until recently the HLC operated almost entirely under the radar. Only within the last year has a search on the City of Portland website for "Landmarks Commission" produced any result at all. Now, at least, the Commissions agendas are published, and there is a brief blurb on the Commission's mission and membership:


Which appears on a page also detailing such important city units as the Noise Review Board and the Plumbing Code Board of Appeals. It is far short of the web presence of other city units with equal impact on our community.

A brief review of the "Powers and Duties" of the HLC shows just how under staffed and under equipped the Commission as presently constituted really is relative to its mission. One can hope that businessman DeMuro, who surely appreciates this weakness, will extert himself to expand the Commissions visibility, resources, and commitment.


i'm pretty sure that i got an email saying that new members would be elected to the landmarks commission. all you have to do is sign up for such notifications. other than that i don't know what the requirements are for notification. also if you're interested in being on a commission, you can always go to the commission's website and see if there are any openings.

i for one would really like to see additional staffing for the landmarks commission because i want that job.

Jeff Joslin

I'm a little surprised to see this as newsworthy, but here goes...

First, the Commission's election of officers is an internal Commission matter (they elect themselves from among those on the Commission, per the Code). They typically do so towards the beginning of each year, and it has never required or entailed public input (nor has this ever been called into question in the fifteen years I've been around). This is the same as for each of the citizen commissions (Design Commission, Planning Commission, Adjustment Committee).

The suggestion of "stealth" is also curious. The Landmarks Commission and the Design Commission operate in the same manner. Agendas are published and viewable, meetings are open and subject to public meetings laws, notices are sent as appropriate and required, etcetera.

The primary reason there's been more interest in, and activity at, the Landmarks Commission hearings is because there have been an increasing number of larger projects coming before them for review. Ten years ago, only a handful of projects came before them each year, with small percentile of overall design reviews applying to historic buildings and districts. This number has steadily increased as we've legislated new Historic and Conservation districts and those areas have become more developmentally active. Today, the number of historic design reviews is more like a third of the overall number of design review cases we process.

This has been a transitional and challenging time for the Landmarks Commission, city staff, and the public. The level of public interest and participation has energized and advanced the dialogue substantially. This is a welcome occurrence as we all continue to grapple with the balance of historic continuity, intensifying development goals, and evolving notions of historic compatibility.

Jeff Joslin
Land Use Manager: Urban Design, Design Review, Landmarks Review
City of Portland Bureau of Development Services


Thank God the Ann Sacks building on NW Glisan near 23rd got approved 3 months prior to the alphabet district being designated an historic district. Otherwise that project would never have been approved by DeMuro and company. Ironic that that building received the mayor's design excellence award that year and that the building was published nationally and is considered by many to be one of the best works of architecture in Portland. All of that would have been lost but that doesn't seem to bother Mr Joslin. He is too busy defending the process rather than stepping up and
recommending some changes in the name of good architecture.

Brian Libby

I sympathize with the point 'genre' is making about the Sachs building, but I'd rather see more of a convivial attitude towards Jeff as he is trying to reach out on behalf of the city and listen to people's concerns.


i second brian's comments about jeff joslin. it is pretty rare to have a government employee participate so openly and often in a public forum such as this when it is not required of them. it speaks to the transparency of the system that portland operates under, or at the very least the transparency that mr. joslin is trying to encourage. very few city officials or decision makers engage with the public in such an informal manner.


Let's all repeat now:

"no building over 1 story!"

In many cantons in Switzerland, the only building type they allow are Swiss Chalets. Doesn't matter if you are a gas station, animal barn, house, apartment, or office building - Swiss Chalet with a certain allowable % of concrete, glass, and wood siding.

Why not do this in the Portland historic districts? Aren't we trying to accomplish the same thing - preserve a single building typology (Victorian houses).

Alison Ryan

Though it *does* sound uber-sexy, being elected chair or vice-chair, as Jeff Joslin points out, isn't something that involves a lot of public input (for landmarks, or any other city commission).

This isn't the decision that gets a person on the commission -- this is the decision that selects someone to run the meeting, and someone else to run the meeting in case the person who usually runs the meeting has the sniffles.

And I've been liking the way DeMuro's been running the meetings. He's pushed for the comment period to act like a conversation, rather than commissioners stating their opinions with no intersection of ideas. Dialogue, whether you like or loathe the results, is far better than a chain of Well, I-think-I-think-I-think reaction.


It's ridiculous to hear anyone defend this election-without-a-public-hearing; too many very good projects have been killed by people complaining that they haven't gotten a fair hearing in public - and now they do this?

Hello kettle, meet pot.


this conversation is ridiculous. it says right in the Code that the election of officers occurs at the first meeting of the calendar year. this is pretty standard no matter what town you live in. next year don't wait for brian libby to give you the news after the fact. learn the Code. the election happened in full view of the public.

Brian Libby


I both agree with and dislike your comment.

You are totally right that all of us concerned with the Commission ought to be on top of things with scheduling and elections.

However, this post wasn't all about readiness on the public's part.

I'd argue that the City would have been better served to take an extra step in getting the word out this time. Was it their responsibility to get a big crowd there? Absolutely not. But if we're talking about coming together and working these issues out, it would have been a helpful mood.

So for that reason, even though you make a valid point aobut the public notice of the meeting, I take issue with this conversation being "ridiculous".

At least until now.


brian, i appreciate your comment back. perhaps i am defensive of public employees because i know how it is on the inside with the pressures of deadlines and constant requests from the public beyond your typical daily responsibilities. my comment about the conversation being ridiculous was more in reference to the previous post implying that the landmarks commission was doing something underhanded by fulfilling their annual duty of electing officers.

perhaps next year the extra notification could be handled at the first of the year through the office of neighborhood invovlement. or perhaps next year you could post a reminder for your readers, considering that over the past couple years, your blog has become the place where many people go for development news.

David Keltner

Thank you, again, for encouraging dialogue in our community where it is needed.
I think the biggest problem with the Landmarks Commission is that their experience and mandated focus are limited to the historic aspect of the projects they review. It seems like common sense to have the landmark status of a project be considered as only one aspect of the city's review, but not as the sole value for acceptance or denial. Why is Landmarks considered a substitute for the Design Review Commission? They do not have the urban planning experience or mandate to responsibly carry out this charge. It seems sort of like having the local librarian reviewing your permit drawings. How about having a historic representative sit on the Design Commission panel when a project requires it? Landmarks should be represented as one of many aspects. Not as preeminent.

That said, given the current situation, we are fortunate to have someone as open and forthright as Jeff Joslin helping us deal with this awkward arrangement.

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