Janice Lyle, president of the San Jacinto Mountain Community Center board, addresses the Riverside County Planning Commission during its meeting Wednesday, Dec. 7.
Photo by JP Crumrine

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the Riverside County Planning Commission approved the conditional use permit for the Idyllwild Community Center site. The commission vote was unanimous, although it did add one more condition to the CUP.

After several months of delay and unexpected postponements, the San Jacinto Mountain Community Center board, led by President Janice Lyle, has obtained the approval for its development plans of the Butterfield Commons on Strawberry Creek.

The county board of supervisors must also approve the amended CUP and that is expected to be on the board’s agenda after New Years. 

In anticipation of the board’s concurrence, the SJMCC board has already requested bids for a general contractor to manage the construction of this phase. If the group receives board approval, it can quickly begin work on the site development and amphitheater.

Presenting the plan to the commission, Principal Planner Larry Ross recommended that the commission adopt the mitigated negative declaration and approve the CUP.

Ross described the project and the SJMCC’s plans to develop the site in four phases. The first phase — site development with parking and an amphitheater — is fully funded, Lyle told the commission. (See accompanying story regarding funds for Phase 2.)

When Lyle addressed the commission, she said the project “… would provide the youth with recreational opportunity and seniors with recreation mixed with music concerts, art exhibits and community events. The town has expressed its wishes.”

Among the numerous local residents attending the meeting in support of the project was Pete Capparelli, who said, “We finally have the opportunity to have a community center and recreation in Idyllwild. The last building for this purpose was built in 1946, and just about everything is substandard now. We’re at the 99-yard line and hope you’ll support us.”

However, the local support was not unanimous. Ann Dunham, Sue Nash and Tom Paulek all spoke solemnly and grimly in opposition to the plan’s approval. Nash was direct with the commission: “I’m opposed to the project.”

Dunham, who lives across Strawberry Creek, was concerned that the noise from the amphitheater’s concerts would be highly disturbing and disruptive. Because of the noise, her daughter Catherine felt the amphitheater was not a contribution to the community. In response, Ruthanne Taylor Berger, the 3rd District representative on the commission, added a new condition requiring additional landscaping along the creek to create a greater noise buffer for residents on the other side of Strawberry Creek

Also, Dunham mentioned the water limitations in Idyllwild, especially having to request a glass of water at local restaurants.

Ross had told the commission, “The project is designed to avoid impacts to the creek.”

Nash and Paulek raised issues regarding the legality of the county’s approval and review process, public input and several environmental challenges, especially about the availability of water. She argued that the Idyllwild Water District could not issue any will-serve letters for the project because it is currently in Stage 2 water emergency. However, she did not acknowledge that the property already has a water meter on the site.

Earlier, Ross had informed the commission that each of the four construction phases were separate and would require new will-serve letters at that time. 

Paulek criticized the commission process and said, “This epitomized Riverside County’s faulty implementation of the [California Environmental Quality Act] and lack of transparency.” 

In response, the commission’s legal counsel stated that the county process is different from other jurisdictions, but meets the CEQA requirements.

After the commission vote, Lyle said, “I’m really happy and very pleased.”

The 5-acre site was a gift to the SJMCC from Loie and Dave Butterfield in 2008. The Butterfields subsequently pledged $2 million toward the development of the site and the amphitheater.