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A Historic Hazard 

Why the City is preserving a squatter's shack

From the outside, the plain rectangular building is unremarkable. Chipped white wood siding frames three carriage doors, askew from years of squatter traffic. One is boarded up with a large sheet of plywood in a vain attempt to keep trespassers out. Thick locks proved only a temporary deterrent, and for the bold, a large opening in the backside of the building provides a dog door of sorts.

Inside, the former community garage in Bend's historic district show signs of its more recent history. Scattered about the molding and collapsing structure, personal effects shed light on its most latest inhabitants: Backpacks, sleeping bags, and empty packs of cigarettes accompany a mandala coloring book, a large Ziplock of dog food, and a massive bottle of what appears to be urine.

A hole in the floor serves as garbage chute and smorgasbord for smaller freeloading tenants, while a long ceiling beam has called it quits, no longer able or willing to shoulder the weight of the crumbling pile of timber.

In any other neighborhood, the building would be considered a simple eyesore and threat to human safety, and promptly razed. But because it is located in a historic district, on the corner of NW Georgia Avenue and NW Bond Street (across from the Source office), its modification—or demolition—is subject to strict City code requirements.

What makes a building "historic," and therefore worthy of preservation? In Bend, certain buildings are designated as historic properties based on their individual merits, while others make the cut simply by virtue of being located in one of the city's "historic districts"—namely Old Town and Drake Park.

The goal, according to City code, is the "preservation and designation of historic resources that have special historic and prehistoric association or significance as a part of the heritage of the citizens of the City and for the education, enjoyment and pride of the citizens, as well as the beautification of the City and enhancement of the value of such property."

Education, enjoyment, pride, and beautification. These are lofty aims that can no doubt be achieved with careful restoration of properties with true historic significance. And the City demands that it be careful.

Since the illegal demolition of a historic Brooks-Scanlon crane shed in 2004, the City has tightened its requirements for wiping out a listed property.

In 2013, then co-owner Jennifer Lundstrom, a Portland-based real estate agent, submitted a request to demolish the building. In the letter accompanying her materials, she described her initial vision for the building she purchased in 2012—and the subsequent reality checks that persuaded her that saving it wasn't feasible.

"We were originally hoping to keep the existing garage and restore the structure," she wrote in the September 7 letter. "But after talks with neighbors, several contractors and a structural engineer, we quickly found that the property is unsafe, too far damaged, and unfit to be salvaged."

Lundstrom goes on to explain that the building's previous owner tried to warn her of the building's condition—"seriously about to fall down at any moment"—and says that after years of lying vacant, it has crossed the threshold from simply unsightly to downright dangerous.

"We believe that the property poses safety issues for the neighborhood and a threat to public health due to the junk and riff-raff that it attracts in its current state," she wrote. "We also believe the shed could fall down at any moment so the issue is dire to the safety of the general public."

And things haven't gotten better in the two years since Lundstom sought approval to demolish the building. Since 2010, Bend Police have been called to the garage four times. "Of the four responses, three have resulted in criminal arrests," says Bend Police Chief Jim Porter. "The arrests include trespassing, possession of controlled substances, and probation violations."

Bend Police most recently responded to an incident at the garage on August 7, after a young man was seen walking into the building. Officers surrounded the entrance and waited, guns ready, while a handful of stowaways emerged.

"We found the suspects had cut the lock of the chain securing the door, but threaded the chain in such a manner as to make it appear the door was secured with a chain, with the lock on the inside of the garage," Porter explains. "The owner is absentee, living outside of Central Oregon. They have made valid attempts to secure the building, but when someone cuts a secure lock, I'm not sure what further they can do."

He says he's following up with the owner to ensure they are taking appropriate measures to secure the building, and officers have conducted what he calls "community police checks" to make sure there isn't any funny business going on.

The building sold to a new owner in July, even though Lundstrom ultimately secured approval for a later plan (shown in the inset above) that involved building a home that uses approximately 20 percent of the existing structure and draws inspiration from its current design.

Senior City Planner Heidi Kennedy says that while she can't predict whether the Landmarks Commission would have approved the demolition request, tearing down buildings in historic districts is uncommon.

"I think demolitions aren't really that common, because it's a lot of work," she explains. "You have to prove its really in bad shape."

Lundstrom says that the project ultimately proved too costly, prompting her to sell. She says the new owner plans to move forward with the approved design for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home.

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