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City of St. Helena

It’s high time St. Helena got a new General Plan, planning commissioners say.

Commissioners held their first public hearing Tuesday on the latest draft of the plan, which has undergone long cycles of rewriting, adjusting and updating since long before any of them were appointed.

Commissioner John Ponte held up a city flyer inviting people to apply for the General Plan Update Steering Subcommittee by Dec. 31, 2006.

“I don’t think anybody is 100 percent happy with the General Plan as written,” Ponte said. “But I’m ready to make my compromises and get this sucker done.”

“Let’s get it in place so we can amend it later,” said Commissioner Daniel Hale.

In a nearly three-hour hearing, the commission recommended only a few changes. The most substantial called for extending Oak Avenue and removing proposed changes to a Church Street neighborhood.

The Oak extension across Sulphur Creek was added as an option during the latest update.

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Consultants say extending Oak from Mitchell Drive to Grayson Avenue and adding a Class 1 bike path would reduce overall “Vehicle Miles Traveled” – the metric the state uses to evaluate traffic – and, if not reduce congestion on Main Street, at least keep it at current levels through the year 2040. Without the Oak extension, Main Street congestion is projected to get much worse during the life of the plan, especially around the Main/Pope/Mitchell intersection.

On the downside, traffic on the existing stretch of Oak would increase and the city would have to contend with the environmental effects of a new bridge over Sulphur Creek.

Commissioners endorsed the extension, as long as the city installs traffic-calming measures to minimize speeding on Oak.

“I think connecting the schools that way is a really positive thing for this town,” said Commissioner Bobbi Monnette.

The commission was less enthused about a policy added in 2010 calling for the residential neighborhood on the west side of Church Street to be redesignated as Mixed Use or converted to parking.

Three Church Street residents spoke out against the idea, and commissioners recommended it be stricken from the General Plan.

The commission will hold a follow-up hearing on April 16 to recommend that the City Council approve the plan.

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