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Hundreds of residents took advantage of Friday’s open house to share their opinions about streetside parklets, crosswalks, and other aspects of St. Helena’s upcoming downtown streetscape project.

About 180 people signed in during the four-hour drop-in event at the vacant Masonic building, and consultant David Gates estimated the total crowd at between 200 and 250. Four students from St. Helena Elementary School’s fourth- and fifth-grade leadership class also attended to share input provided by 240 classmates.

Photos of streetscape concepts and architectural designs from other cities were displayed, and guests were given blue colored dots to stick next to the most appealing photos.

“Pots and planters, that’s nice. Make the street look pretty,” said Ester Akersloot, placing one of her dots, then gesturing toward another photo of a planted median strip. “This would be pretty arty, wouldn’t it? But I don’t think it’s necessary myself. We need better sidewalks, for sure.”

Last year Akersloot successfully lobbied the city to design a continuous sidewalk on the south side of Hunt Avenue so that residents like her can safely walk to the downtown. During the open house, she spoke in favor of building a new public restroom off Main Street and installing directional signs to help people find the existing restrooms at Lyman Park and Lewis Station Park.

“Maybe put signs up and arrows – ‘restrooms this way,’” Akersloot suggested.

Bill Ryan, one of the organizers of the St. Helena Street Piano at Lyman Park, said he’d like to install a second piano at a new “mini-parklet” – a pocket of public space created by bulbing out the sidewalk, often at the site of a crosswalk.

“They’re all over San Francisco,” Ryan said. A street piano at a mini-parklet “would have a nice local, organic appeal, and it suits both locals and visitors,” he said.

Tom Allen, whose Downtown Renaissance project explored similar ideas, was excited about the renewed push to spruce up the downtown space.

“Streetscape improvements, gathering places for pedestrians, fixing up the alleyways, more attention and resources for the trees – this is great,” Allen said.

In addition to comments about the streetscape, people used the open house to weigh in on the Adams Street property, City Hall, a potential new hotel, and the need for a community center.

“We asked them to design the stove but they’re looking at the whole kitchen,” said David Gates, one of the consultants guiding the project.

He saw that as a sign that there’s strong public will to design a comprehensive project that builds on St. Helena’s unique sense of place.

“People are starting to realize they have an opportunity here,” Gates said. “It’s very exciting.”

The input from Friday’s open house will help shape the design of the downtown streetscape project. Construction of the new sidewalks is scheduled for spring 2021.

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