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Report analyzes environmental effects of proposed St. Helena housing project

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City of St. Helena

ST. HELENA -- The proposed 87-unit Hunter project will cause unavoidable traffic issues, but otherwise will not cause environmental problems, a newly released report says.

The 638-page Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), accompanied by 1,940 pages of appendices, analyzes the proposed subdivision’s effects on water, traffic, greenhouse gas emissions and other factors.

Public comments are due Nov. 8. The Planning Commission will receive public comments on the Draft EIR at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 2.

First filed in 2011, the application by Ben and Kelly Vanzutphen seeks approval of 51 single-family homes, 11 accessory dwelling units, and 25 multi-family units to satisfy the city’s affordable housing requirements.

The 16.9-acre project site is beyond the eastern terminus of Adams Street. Adams and Starr Avenue would be extended to the new subdivision. The project does not propose a traffic signal at the Pope Street Bridge, a mitigation measure recommended in a previous Draft EIR.

The new Draft EIR identifies two “significant and unavoidable” impacts, both related to traffic.

According to the report, the project would generate 798 vehicle trips on a typical weekday. In accordance with new state laws, the analysis is based on Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), not the amount of traffic congestion the project would cause at a particular intersection.

The report found the project’s other impacts could be mitigated to a “less than significant” level, including water.

A well would serve all of the project’s landscaping needs, but the project would still use about 17,752 gallons of city water per day, according to the project’s water neutrality report.

To comply with the city’s water-neutrality requirement, the applicant proposes to pay for toilets, shower heads and faucets to be retrofitted at existing St. Helena homes.

According to a consultant’s report, retrofitting 333 homes with new water-conserving fixtures would offset the Hunter project’s water demand. The applicant would pay a $596,808 in-lieu fee to fund the retrofits, at a cost of $1,792.24 per house.

The property is behind the levee the city completed in 2011 as part of a comprehensive flood project. The levee was designed to protect against a 200-year flood event, but opponents of the Hunter project have raised concerns about public safety, property damage and liability if the levee fails.

The modern design and construction of the levee, along with the city’s ongoing maintenance, “substantially reduces its potential to fail in a 200-year flood or in the event of an earthquake,” the report states.

In the “highly unlikely” scenario of the levee being overtopped, “residents would have ample warning to evacuate prior to flooding,” the report states. Flooding on the project lots would range from 0 to 5 feet, which “would leave upper floors or residences available for refuge.”

“Because of this, the risks from a 200+ year flood and/or levee failure are limited to property damage rather than risk of life,” the report concludes. “This would be an impact of the pre-existing environment on the Proposed Project rather than the Proposed Project’s impact on the environment.”

Comments on the report may be sent via email to mderosa@cityofsthelena.org or in writing to Maya DeRosa, Planning & Building Director, City of St. Helena Planning Department, 1572 Railroad Ave., St. Helena, CA 94574.

Public comments, plus responses to those comments, will be compiled into a Final EIR that will be released before the city takes final action on the project.

The Draft EIR is available at cityofsthelena.org, at the St. Helena Public Library, and at the St. Helena Planning Department, 1572 Railroad Ave.

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

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