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City of St. Helena

Antonio Castellucci’s plan to develop a range of housing types on Pope Street and Mitchell Drive got its first public airing Tuesday during a pre-application review in front of the City Council.

The public’s reaction was generally favorable, although neighbors urged the city to study the project’s traffic impacts, especially on the narrow and often congested Pope Street bridge.

“I want to live in a community with a diverse range of incomes, and this project accomplishes that,” said Anna Chouteau, a neighbor who serves on the council but is recused from voting on the project because she lives near the Pope Street sites. She’s still allowed to weigh in on the project as a resident.

The 100-unit project includes townhomes, single-family homes, accessory dwelling units, farmworker housing, affordable housing, and a small winery on four properties – three along Pope Street and one small lot on Mitchell Drive.

Affordable housing on Mitchell and farmworker housing on Pope – a total of 19 units – would satisfy the city’s affordable housing requirements for the market-rate units on the 10-acre Romero property and a 2.5-acre parcel on the north side of Pope Street, Castellucci said.

“With St. Helena’s affordable housing shortage, I think these units would really benefit the town,” Castellucci said.

Anthony Micheli commended the project for putting some of the city’s much-needed affordable housing on the west side of town, after a string of low-cost housing projects on the east side of town.

“I hope the city would streamline this and get this done so we move forward and not just be the city of no,” Micheli said.

A few speakers didn’t take firm positions for or against the project, but urged the city to analyze factors like traffic, parking and water. Several highlighted circulation issues, crosswalk safety along Pope Street, and the perils of relying on the Pope Street bridge in case the town ever has to be evacuated.

Mark Epstein, representing Mitchell Drive residents, said the seven affordable housing units proposed on Mitchell would “fundamentally change the neighborhood.” He said the project’s affordable units should be split between Mitchell and Pope.

Pat Dell was skeptical of assurances that even the market-rate units would be at a price point local workers could afford.

“I don’t think we should all be ecstatic about this project thinking it’s going to meet the housing needs of St. Helena, because I don’t think it’s even going to come close,” she said.

City Attorney Michael Biddle advised councilmembers to keep an open mind on the project, but encouraged them to provide “constructive criticism” to guide Castellucci as he moves toward a full application.

Councilmembers acknowledged the need to analyze traffic, water and all the other environmental factors identified by neighbors. They also said the project’s affordable housing will need to be weighed against St. Helena’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which generally requires affordable units to be built alongside market-rate housing, but does allow developers to propose alternatives.

Councilmembers also acknowledged the need for housing, and said the city should study the possible prices of the new units.

“I think people here are supporting the project in large part because they believe it will be relatively affordable, and we need to see that,” said Councilmember Mary Koberstein, praising Castellucci for including townhomes that could fall within a reasonable price range.

“At this point hoping isn’t enough,” added Mayor Geoff Ellsworth. “We need to start looking at how we can ensure that we’re going to have housing that serves all strata of our community.”

Pope Street speed limit

In other action, the council rejected a proposal to increase the speed limit on Pope Street between Allison Avenue and Silverado Trail from 25 mph to 30.

The idea resulted from speed studies conducted on various streets around St. Helena. The stretch along Pope was the only one where staff and consultants recommended an increase.

Neighbors strongly objected to the increase, and councilmembers agreed it wouldn’t be in the interest of public safety.

They also ordered that the speed limit on Madrona Avenue from Scott Street to Riesling Way be lowered from 30 mph to 25 to match the rest of the city.

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