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St. Helenans air objections to Hunter project

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City of St. Helena

Traffic, emergency evacuation, flooding and water are St. Helena residents’ biggest concerns about the proposed Hunter project at the end of Adams Street.

The Planning Commission spent one hour on Tuesday collecting public input — all of it negative — in response to the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Applicants Ben and Kelly Vanzutphen want to develop 87 units on the 16.9-acre property: 51 single-family homes, a 25 multi-family units to satisfy the project’s affordable housing requirements, and 11 accessory dwelling units.

The 87 proposed units are the minimum allowed by the project’s zoning, which allows for up to 270 units.

The EIR identifies two “significant and unavoidable” impacts, both involving “vehicle miles traveled,” a measure of how far the additional cars associated with the project would travel on a typical day.

Members of the public were skeptical of a proposal for the applicants to pay a $597,000 in-lieu fee to cover the cost of retrofitting water fixtures elsewhere in St. Helena in order to offset the project's water use. 

A consultant’s report estimated that 333 off-site homes would need to be retrofitted to offset the project’s 20 acre-feet of annual indoor water demand (wells will provide water for landscaping).

“The only thing that will make this project water-neutral is investment in infrastructure to get more water for the whole city,” said Tracy McBride. “The city can ask or incentivize the developer to do this.”

Greg Reynolds, managing partner of the nearby Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park, raised objections about wastewater flows, traffic, and emergency evacuations.

“We’re very concerned that a safe evacuation and access through the back of park will disappear with this project,” Reynolds said. “We are concerned that the construction will undermine the levee and overwhelm the Army Corps strategy put in place to protect our 350 residents and their homes.”

Reynolds also said the project would “drown” an already overtaxed sewer system.

Other critics questioned whether the new levee would protect the project from flooding.

Maria Villegas said that if St. Helena’s founders were here today, they would say to “respect Mother Nature.”

“When she decides to flood, there’s no levee that’s going to stop her,” Villegas said.

Comments the city receives by Monday, Nov. 8, will be incorporated into a Final EIR that will be subject to public hearings in early 2022.

The tentative subdivision map currently under consideration is only the first step in approving the project. It would also need an affordable housing agreement, design review of the proposed homes, and a conditional use permit for the multi-family housing.

The EIR is available at cityofsthelena.org/planning/page/hunter-draft-eir. Comments may be submitted through 5 p.m. Monday to mderosa@cityofsthelena.org.

The 20-unit Caritas Village affordable housing complex is now being constructed in the city of Napa at 2375 Old Sonoma Road. Construction is expected to last about 16 months, according to developers. Video by Edward Booth, Napa Valley Register.

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You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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