By editorial board • 

Owners of historic homes deserve proper notification

It’s fairly straightforward to find out if a building you own is on McMinnville’s Historic Resources Inventory. Just pore over the 558 addresses listed at

Harold Washington and Jeff Sauter probably wish they’d known that before starting their respective demolition and renovation projects. They’re in the majority, it seems, in being unaware of such a list.

In Washington’s case, the surprise listing status resulted in delay of a 16,000-square-foot office building just outside the downtown core. In Sauter’s, it produced denials from the McMinnville Planning Commission and Historic Landmarks Committee for permission to use polymer rather than wood railings in rebuilding a rot-infested deck — railings already custom cut for the project and shipped to the site.

The city has begun taking a harsher line on oversight and enforcement of historic resources, under a preservation ordinance adopted in 2017 in response to changes in state law. But the city did not include a mechanism for informing the sellers, buyers and continuing owners of such resources.

A historic property addendum may be included in real estate transactions, noting some municipalities assign their own historic designations. But we doubt most real estate brokers are aware of the local inventory, so hundreds of houses have probably changed hands over the years without any notification of historic designation.

The city needs a method of communication informing owners about properties listed on the inventory, thus subject to additional city oversight and tougher design standards. This should be done not just at the point of sale, but on a recurring annual basis.

First, it’s simply the right thing to do. Second, better communications would improve the city’s ability to more efficiently carry out its historic preservation mission.

How many houses listed on the inventory have quietly lost historic architectural features since the inventory was created in 1983? We know of one, certainly.

The house at 1026 N.E. 10th Ave. has undergone multiple alterations, stripping away the historic qualities that qualified it for listing in the first place. The current owners are seeking to have it de-listed, and the city staff is recommending approval.

The same conclusion was drawn for the property where Washington, longtime owner of Washington Roofing, is planning a new office complex.

“The building just hasn’t been kept up,” Washington said. He viewed it as a candidate for demolition when he acquired it in 2015, he said.

The city’s 2017 ordinance proclaims, “Demolition by neglect shall be prohibited.” Like other code violations, the city is authorized to take owners to court for failing to preserve a historical resource.

Unlike Sauter, Washington ultimately prevailed. But the negotiations cost him time, money and trouble.

Fees on applications to the Historic Landmarks Committee, coupled with the higher cost of historically faithful repairs and improvements, serve as deterrents to the city’s ultimate goal. And tax incentives are limited to properties listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, none of which is residential in McMinnville’s case.

If the city wants to avoid angering yet more citizens caught off guard, it should embark on an information campaign now.


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