The Oatfield House, built by an Oak Grove pioneer family more than a century, stands on the verge of demolition.
A Clackamas County hearings officer has sided with its current owner, Dimitri Matveev, who testified Aug. 17 that it is too far gone for repairs.
The house at 14928 SE Oatfield Road requires county approval for demolition because it has been a county historic landmark since November 1987.
The house is named for Philip Oatfield, who built the Colonial Revival-style house in 1903 for his brother, John. A county building inspector has declared the house as a dangerous building.
"At some point, however, a building is just too far gone to require the applicant to keep an unlivable and dangerous building," wrote Fred Wilson, a Salem lawyer and the hearings officer.
"The present case is also not a case where an applicant took possession of a reasonably preserved house and let it deteriorate to the point where it was no longer salvageable.
"While there is hardly a clear line for when a house should be preserved versus being demolished, I find that in the present case the building is in such a state of disrepair that it is comfortably on the demolish side of the line."
The approval for demolition is good for four years.
Opponents such as the Oak Lodge History Detectives have until the last week of September to file an appeal, which would go to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
County commissioners also will have to remove the zoning overlay that protects a historic landmark. That hearing has not been set yet.
Wilson rejected arguments by Lisa Bentley and Pat Culley Kennedy, two members of Oak Lodge History Detectives, that Matveev's application failed to document details of the house or that he and the county failed to advertise widely enough to seek a potential financial savior.
"I tend to agree with opponents that the comprehensive plan, the criteria in the original designation, and the purpose of the historic landmark provisions are to preserve historic landmarks when possible," Wilson wrote.
But Wilson said the weight of the evidence tilted toward demolition.
"While the purposes of the historic landmark provisions are to preserve historic landmarks when reasonably possible, in the present case the detriment to the applicant is far greater than any contrariness to the intent and purposes of the historic landmark provisions," Wilson wrote.
"I furthermore do not see that there is any detriment to the public welfare. In fact, the public welfare would be improved by removing an unsafe building."
The decision allows 30 days, until early October, for Restore Oregon to record the house's features, and for the Rebuilding Center in Portland and Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage to consider salvage possibilities. A demolition permit can be issued after then.
Mike Schmeer, chairman of Oak Lodge History Detectives, said the fault lay with a historic preservation ordinance that fails to accomplish its goals.
"Clackamas County's historic landmark ordinance is in need of a drastic makeover," he wrote after the decision was issued. "The existing ordinances, in practice, seem geared to making it as easy as possible for an applicant to demolish a historic landmark rather than preserving it."
An earlier attempt for a demolition permit was withdrawn after Matveev's brother, Paul, failed at an April 20 hearing to present sufficient evidence to comply with county standards for demolition. Dimitri Matveev did not testify at that hearing.
Matveev has not submitted any plans to the county for construction on the .83-acre property, which is zoned for low-density residential use.
He bought it in 2014 from the family of Frances Rothschild, who was its most recent occupant when she died in 2011.
Matveev said his fondest hope was to renovate the house for his family, which has six children. But he said the house was full of trash that had to be hauled out by the truckload, the smell left from its numerous cats was "horrendous," and the foundation and porches were in bad shape.
Nevertheless, Matveev said, he asked experts who advised him it would be too costly to repair it. Estimates vary, depending on whether the house is moved or stays put, but range from $100,000 to $350,000.
After the decision was issued, Bentley acknowledged that the public and the county need to move more quickly toward incentives to save historic properties.
"We need to be more vigilant, proactive, and involved in preservation of historic buildings in our community," Bentley said. "And we need to push for changes in our county zoning regulations to encourage historic preservation. We also need to lobby for a return of funding to help owners of a historic landmark."
Adds reactions by Mike Schmeer, chairman of Oak Lodge History Detectives, and Lisa Bentley, a member who testified in opposition to the proposed demolition.