Traffic, water, the risk of disastrous flooding, and the potential loss of a popular trail were among the concerns listed Monday by skeptical neighbors of the Hunter housing project.
The city held a special meeting so that St. Helena residents could suggest the issues that should be analyzed by the project’s new environmental impact report (EIR). A draft report is scheduled to be released in late summer.
Before the neighbors had their say, applicant Ben vanZutphen gave a brief description of the project, which would be on a vacant property beyond the eastern end of Adams Street.
He is requesting a tentative map – but not design review – to subdivide the 16.9-acre parcel into 51 lots for single-family homes, with a separate parcel for a 25 units of affordable/workforce housing. At least 11 accessory dwelling units – also known as granny or second units – would be built on the single-family lots.
The total of 87 units would be the minimum allowed by the property’s Medium Density Residential zoning.
“We’re really excited to bring this project here and help deliver the much-needed housing that we need for the people who live here and would like to live here but can’t afford to,” vanZutphen said.
The homes would be built just inside the same levee that protects Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park. The land is no longer within the flood plain, but it was prone to flooding before the levee was built. Neighbors said they were worried about the potential loss of life and property damage.
Bernie Buckley questioned whether the city, which maintains the levee, would be liable for any damages if it fails.
Planning Director Noah Housh acknowledged that flooding and legal liability are crucial issues that will be “fully vetted and explained” as the city analyzes the project. “When the project moves forward for a decision there will be a whole section on levee liability” drafted by the city’s attorneys, Housh said.
Neighbors were also concerned about the project’s water needs. The project’s previous EIR concluded that the additional water demand could be offset by drawing non-potable water from an existing well and retrofitting old toilets and sinks around town with more water-efficient appliances. The project’s opponents haven’t embraced that conclusion.
Traffic is another key factor. With the Pratt Avenue bridge closed indefinitely and the extension of Adams Street to Silverado Trail now ruled out by a conservation easement, neighbors said the EIR needs to look at how the subdivision would affect traffic at Main/Adams, the Pope Street bridge and Silverado Trail, and surrounding residential neighborhoods.
Neighbors were also worried about the potential loss of the pedestrian trail to the Napa River.
“I use it twice a day,” Jan Flynn said. “It’s really the only place we have to walk our dog that’s not on a city street.”
Buckley questioned whether the neighborhood was the right place for another affordable housing project. The project would be adjacent to Hunt’s Grove Apartments, where overflow parking has been a problem.
“You’re crowding these low-income people all together,” he said. “It doesn’t seem right to me.”
Neighbors said the EIR should also consider parking, sewer capacity, stormwater runoff, earthquake safety, and landscaping to screen the homes from Vineyard Valley.
A few speakers said an EIR is premature because of a lack of certainty about the total number of units. With the state forcing the city to relax restrictions on accessory dwelling units (ADUs), it’s unclear whether more than 11 of them could be built. Neighbors also questioned how the city could require the homeowners to rent them out, rather than using them as guest houses or extra living space.
The number and use of the ADUs would directly affect the project’s impacts on traffic, water and other factors, neighbors said. So would the size of each single-family house, which is also unknown, they said.
“There’s no indication of four-bedroom houses versus one-bedroom cottages, how many bathrooms are involved, how many cars,” Ann Nevero said.
Brian Grattidge, one of the consultants responsible for the EIR, said his team will definitely study the potential number of units.
“We are looking at what the range of those numbers are that would be appropriate to analyze,” he said.
Comments on the scope of the EIR can be sent through April 12 to Planning Director Noah Housh at email@example.com or City of St. Helena, Planning & Community Improvement Department, 1480 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574.