Portland is Changing – To Demo or Not to Demo?

There has been much press lately on the greatly debated issue of developers purchasing older homes and tearing them down to construct new ones. The city of Portland is an ideal place for developers that are looking to build, as there are many older homes with deferred maintenance that fit the bill for a tear down, especially in Portland’s inner NE and SE neighborhoods. Also, the city is all for the building of new homes as it brings in revenue, increases property values and taxes and employs people. There have been several significant news worthy stories on a few of these homes this year. The latest and most published is the home located at 1627 NW 32nd Ave in Portland.


Digg.com founder and Google Ventures Partner Kevin Rose and his wife purchased the home at 1627 NW 32nd Ave in March of 2014 for 1.3 million. At that time the plan was for them to remodel the home to fit their family’s needs. The story goes that after much time and money spent on plans to renovate/ remodel the home built in 1892 the Roses concluded it was cheaper and easier for them to demolish the original structure and build a new home. The city agreed with them on this venture and approved the demolition and building permits simultaneously, allowing them to not post notice of the upcoming demolition. This outraged neighbors as they began to catch wind of the intention to demolish the home that has lived in the Willamette Heights neighborhood for 122 years. The replacement home was ultra modern with a large glass façade and contemporary features. Not at all what is commonplace in this area and another reason for the uproar. To keep a long story short, in the end the Rose’s decided to sell the property to a long time resident of Willamette Heights for 1.375 million, the original price they paid plus $75,000 to cover the costs of the building plans and such for the new house. My opinion is that this would not have happened without the public outreach to save the home. There are several websites and forums that have been created specifically for this. Check out this one for comments from the public and the Rose’s.


Not every old home in Portland has this same happy ending for residents and neighbors of these homes set for demo. There have been several homes in the news this year in NE Portland’s Alameda Neighborhood that were set for demo and were not saved. One in particular is located on the corner of NE 28th Ave and NE Dunckley and was demolished over a year ago. Neighbors tried to protest the demolition, but were unsuccessful. This is not the only story like this, as far as I know the only successful house saving was the one mentioned above owned by The Rose’s. My guess is because it was easier for them to concede to the neighbors and gracefully back out of the limelight. Others less famous are not having issues with such public protests for demolition. Not that neighbors aren’t trying, because they are, the ones that get the stories are ones the media feels are worthy of telling. I can’t even begin to tell you how many homes in inner SE have been torn down and new ones constructed in the last several years. I have yet to see any of those on the news.


Another hot spot for the developer versus neighbor’s story is East Moreland in SE Portland. People have flocked to East Moreland for the beautiful old homes that gracefully live on the tree lined streets. They also come here for the style of the neighborhood, excellent public schools and overall lifestyle. Within the last 5 years developers have taken notice of this and have started tearing down homes to construct new, large homes with modern amenities. I would say most of these are family homes and are on typical city lots. Neighbors complained and some press was given to the home located at 4341 SE Rex in Portland due to the developer’s lack of asbestos mediation prior to the home being demolished. The home is located very close to Duniway Elementary school; this was also cause for concern as the children could have been exposed to the asbestos during the construction here. The developer did take care of the asbestos issue, after claiming not knowing there were regulations, and construction is set to be finished in September of 2014. This home was purchased in March of 2014 for $425,000 and will be coming back on the market once built for over $1 million. My guess is it will sell quickly, just as the other new infill homes have in this area.


It is hard to take sides on this issue as both have valid concerns with the other. Restoring old homes that are Historic requires money, time and resources. Building new ones requires the same. To reuse, preserve and save glorious older homes that are rich in Portland history in many ways is a great thing- it can remind us of what the world was like when it was a better place: slower, safer, happier. Building new energy efficient, safe homes close in to Portland is also a great thing. It makes living within the urban growth boundary more doable, it allows families to get into great school districts without having the issue of living in an older home that requires a lot of maintenance and is potentially unsafe. Building new homes creates jobs, revenue for our grand city and increases property values for neighbors. Restoring old homes also creates jobs, revenue for our city (albeit less) and increases property values. Either way renovating or building new increases everything good that we love about Portland. Both show pride in ownership, both show pride in community and both show pride in living in our beautiful city. We love you Portland, whether you change or not.

Written by Amanda Folkestad and Brian Porter

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