The first meeting of the Idyllwild Downtown Historic District took place at the Idyllwild Water District. Seen here with a map of the district boundaries are (from left) Nancy Borchers, Ron Kammayer, Barbara Jones, Keith Herron (county historic preservation officer and IDHD board secretary) and Warren Monroe. Photo by Marshall Smith

The local review board for the Idyllwild Downtown Historic District convened officially for the first time last week. This was only two weeks after the Riverside County Board of Supervisors appointed the five members — Nancy Borchers, Barbara Jones, Ron Kammeyer, Warren Monroe and Christina Stewart.

Four of the board members attended the first session Thursday, Feb. 14, with county Historic Preservation Officer Keith Herron. They begin the process of preparing to take up the board’s primary function, reviewing applications for alteration permits for downtown buildings considered historic resources.

Herron will act as liaison between the local board and the county planning department, which makes the final decisions on historic district alteration applications. The local review board is advisory, similar to county service area advisory committees, and, as such, cannot make policy, or by itself approve or deny applications. As an advisory board, it will advise both the Idyllwild building owner on how to comply with district design guidelines and the planning department on the board’s opinion as to whether or not the application conforms to district design guidelines.

Herron explained the historic district permit process for buildings listed as contributing resources (of historic value). An Idyllwild applicant with a building in the historic district who desires to make modifications to the exterior of the building goes in person to the planning department to submit a permit application.

All buildings in the historic district are listed by address in a planning department database, so an application for historic resource structures with addresses in the district will automatically be flagged, Herron is then notified, and the applicant is directed to appear before the Idyllwild review board. Building addresses listed as noncontributing resources are exempt from the local review board process.

At the hearing, the local board compares the applicant’s plans and drawings with the Idyllwild district design guidelines. The board, familiar with the design guidelines, is tasked to work with the applicant to fine tune the application to conform to design guidelines and to better ensure planning department approval. After meeting with the applicant and reviewing the application, the Idyllwild board makes its recommendations to the planning department.

The test of whether a proposed alteration is permissible is if it does not substantially change the defining features of the historic building. Herron gave handouts to the board listing buildings in the district by address and whether they are of historical significance and under the board’s jurisdiction. Fifty-six of 84 properties within the district are designated as contributing, and therefore covered by county ordinance and subject to review by the local board.

Many of the remaining buildings on the list were built in the early to mid-20th century. Although they might have had historic significance, their original appearance had been significantly altered, thus decreasing their historical value.

Among the board’s first actions was the election of officers. Monroe will serve as chairman, Jones as vice chair, and Herron will act as board secretary and will attend all meetings. Nancy Borchers, Ron Kammeyer and Christina Stewart are the other board members. Stewart did not attend the initial meeting.

Herron also directed the board to review the design guidelines, currently in final draft form, and either approve as is or suggest changes to county. Once the Idyllwild board sends it recommendations, the county approves and issues the final guidelines.

Herron directed the board to draft a set of goals for the district. “Your overall objective is to preserve the [historic] character of the district,”Herron said. He advised that how they work with the community could either advance or inhibit the success of the district. “Your primary function is to network successfully with the public,” he said, noting that interactions are better when supportive and consultative rather than adversarial.

In response to a question on whether the planning department permit staff is fully informed about the Idyllwild historic district permit process and how it differs from standard permitting, Herron said he plans to meet with planning and have at least one designated contact person whom he can work with on historic district permit issues.

The board is subject to Brown Act open government laws. Its meetings are public and noticed in advance according to Brown Act requirements. At Thursday’s session, the board said it would meet monthly as it begins to operate.