CSA 36 Advisory Committee confronts possibility of Town Hall sale

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Town Hall. File photo

Town Hall.
File photo


On Thursday, Sept. 8, the County Service Area 36 Advisory Committee held its monthly meeting to review its responsibilities for overseeing recreation and street lights in the district.

Facing the committee and the community is the likelihood that Town Hall will be listed for sale by the Johnson family. Town Hall is currently the primary venue for CSA 36 recreation. The Johnson family has been in negotiations with the county for either sale or a long-term lease of the historic structure, but no agreement has been reached.

At this point, an agreement is unlikely, according to Michael Franklin, CSA project manager at the county’s Economic Development Agency. “Our real property division is working with [3rd District] Supervisor [Chuck] Washington to find alternative sites,” said Franklin, “but at this time, a long-term lease at Town Hall is not in the county’s interest.” Scott Bangle, general manager of the County Parks and Open Space District, current recreation managers, concurred with Franklin. “There’s not a lot of sense in pursuing a long-term lease at this time,” said Bangle.

With no prospect of a lease at a reasonable commercial rate, Jay Johnson said he would be forced to list the property for sale. Other family members, who hold legal interests in the building and land, are pressing for a lease or sale. Johnson said in an interview on Tuesday, Sept. 13, that he had indicated to Bangle that the family would accept $1.25 a square foot as a fair rent for Town Hall.

With a likely two-year wait until other recreation facilities are available at the Idyllwild Community Center Butterfield Commons site, the county would have to find other recreation facilities in the interim if no lease agreement could be reached and Town Hall were to sell. Because of the present uncertainty about Town Hall’s future, the advisory committee was unable to take action on proposals for creating pickleball courts at Town Hall, or repairing or replacing the outdoor stage.

The only actions the committee did take at the meeting were to elect a chair, John Metroka Jr., and a vice chair, Kathy Wilson; change the meeting date to the fourth Thursday of every month at the same 5:30 p.m. time; and agree to circulate a public opinion survey, “The Future of Town Hall,” at the post office.

The survey asks residents if and how they would be willing to help save Town Hall as a recreation venue or as a new arts center with a community theater. Franklin noted that Washington is interested in hearing what the community wants. “That is why he established this committee,” said Franklin.

Town Hall Director Bob Lewis gave his report on current recreation, noting a significant increase in youth soccer registration from last year (120 players), a return of Idyllwild’s Haunted Ghost Town, and plans to hold community dances and more events for seniors. Community movies on a large screen indoors in the fall and winter, and outdoors when the weather warms will also be placed on the recreation agenda. Lewis submitted a preliminary budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, based on combined recreation fees and CSA income of just over $220,000.

Unless a special meeting is called to deal with an imminent Town Hall sale, the next CSA 36 Advisory Committee meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27.

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