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St. Helena Montessori School proposes workforce housing on College Avenue

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City of St. Helena

The St. Helena Montessori School wants the city to consider rezoning an acre and a half of land on College Avenue to allow for workforce housing.

The idea is still in the conceptual phase, but school representatives asked the City Council to consider rezoning the land from A-20 Agriculture to Medium-Density Residential as part of the General Plan update, which is nearing an end and could wrap up by the end of the year.

Instead of taking immediate action on the request, the council agreed Tuesday to consider the idea as part of a comprehensive review of St. Helena’s residential zonings that will take place soon after the new General Plan is adopted. Neighborhoods on Monte Vista and McCorkle have also been flagged for possible rezoning.

The Montessori school owns three half-acre parcels next to its campus on College Avenue. The current zoning allows for a single home and one accessory dwelling unit on each of the three parcels. Medium-Density Residential zoning would allow between 8 and 24 units on one and a half acres, but the exact number of units and their level of affordability haven’t been determined.

Matt Heil, the school’s director of development, said a few units could be reserved for the school’s teachers, but others could be available to the community or to specific workers like firefighters and other first responders.

“We’re not forcing this issue,” Heil said. “We just wanted to let the city to know that this property could potentially be developed for workforce housing … for the community.”

Updated drafts of the proposed General Plan and its environmental impact report should be released for public review in September.

Brenkle Court

In other action on Tuesday, the council dedicated another $160,667 from the city’s affordable housing trust fund to Our Town St. Helena’s Brenkle Court project on McCorkle Avenue.

The funds include $15,000 to supplement a previous commitment to restrict two of the site’s eight units to Very Low Income families; $65,667 to allow a third unit to be restricted to Very Low Income levels; and an $80,000 “bridge loan” to cover a temporary funding shortfall as the nonprofit Our Town awaits federal funding for mortgages.

The city has now contributed $1.2 million to Brenkle Court. That includes the $700,000 the city spent to buy the lot, but it doesn’t include the bridge loan that will be repaid in 2019.

The self-help housing project is being built through “sweat equity,” with the eventual homeowners providing most of the labor. Preparatory site work is almost done, and construction should start in November and take about 16 months, according to Our Town’s Mary Stephenson.

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