The Local Review Board of the Idyllwild Historic Preservation District last week continued its discussion of the possibility of employing the state’s Mills Act to encourage and gain more property-owner participation in the protecting local historic resources.
The Mills Act provides property-tax relief in exchange for an equivalent investment in the historic property. The owners are committing to restore, rehabilitate repair and preserve the historic property. In order to be eligible, local, county or state government must designate the property as possessing historic value.
All properties within the Idyllwild Historic Preservation District that have been designated as contributing to its historicity would be eligible.
At its April 23 meeting, the LRB heard from Teri Delcamp, historic preservation planner for the City of Riverside. Her responsibilities include managing and overseeing Riverside properties that have negotiated Mills Act contracts — about 50 properties, she told the Idyllwild board.
Delcamp, who has worked with five different cities on implementing a Mills Act program, said, “Each city or each jurisdiction can set the Mills Act however it works for them.”
Although Riverside County does not have a Mills Act program, the Board of Supervisors could adopt one.
“It could come from the Local Review Board or the county Historical Commission, but having a group of interested property owners is key,” said Keith Herron, the Riverside County chief of resources and planning. “Without property owners it is really just talking in a vacuum … the first step would be to get grassroots property owners interested.”
Currently, the supervisors have not enacted any ordinance for using the Mills Act anywhere in the county. But the county Assessor’s Office works with the cities of Riverside and Palm Springs, who do employ these agreements, according to Herron.
Riverside City allocates seven Mills Act contracts each year, of which five are for residential properties and two for commercial. However, if less than seven are granted, it can award more than seven the next year.
An application fee of $137 and a contract initiation fee of $489 are required. The city council approves all contracts, she said, explaining the program.
The application package will include a proposed 10-year rehabilitation plan, which must also be in accordance with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Properties. Examples of the types of projects Riverside City approves include modifications for access, new cabinets, electrical rewiring, security lights and plumbing.
“We give credit to items that keep the properties viable,” said Delcamp. “Other cities might say, ‘No.’ We may be more liberal in that regard.”
Once a property becomes part of the program, owners submit annual reports with receipts and photographs documenting the work done each year, pursuant to the plan.
“This demonstrates that the owner invested the tax savings into preservation of the property,” Delcamp said.
In the City of Riverside, her staff conducts review inspections. Contracts are automatically renewed unless one of the parties notifies the other that they would like to end the relationship.
The annual tax savings can be between 15 and 50 percent, according to Delcamp.
LRB Chair Warren Monroe plans to continue the discussion and investigate the program as an incentive for historic preservation. If enough local property owners evince interest, he would like to bring the concept to the county Historic Commission.
Herron also indicated that IHPD is mostly composed of commercial buildings, but a second district of mostly residential properties might possibly be established to expand the interest.
“I think there is some interest in Idyllwild for creating another district, especially along Strawberry Creek,” added board member Barbara Jones.