As St. Helens moves closer to riverfront redevelopment, plans are afoot for a road and utility extension from South First and Strand streets, a project that was started in March.
At the City Council meeting on June 16, council members voted unanimously to accept what's known as the west alignment alternative to expand streets near the waterfront.
The project, according to the city, focuses on creating design documents, securing permits and starting construction on road and utility extensions for First and Strand streets through the St. Helens waterfront property.
The city has been working with Otak, the city's consultant for the street extension project.
Otak representatives Don Hanson and Kaitlin North were on hand at a June 16 public forum to describe two alternatives: a west alignment and an east alignment.
"Each of these have their own unique advantages," St. Helens city engineer Sue Nelson said in introducing Hansen and North. "This is an important decision to ensure that the new roads and utilities and other infrastructure are installed in the best place possible for future development on this site."
Otak had interviews with four qualified developers to get input into the alignment alternatives.
"Their input was used to help prepare the two conceptual level plans that are being presented tonight," Nelson said.
Hanson said one of the developers who reviewed the alternatives was Roy Kim of Central Bethany Development Company.
Speaking of Kim, Hanson said, "He thinks the existing downtown should be considered an opportunity, and whatever we do should be complementary to downtown."
Hanson added, "He loves the site. All four developers are keenly interested in the property, and I think all four of them have been out to the site."
North described the west alignment, which emerged as the favorite option at the public forum, as placing South First Street closer to the bluff. The conceptual plan provides parallel parking along both sides of the street in the middle and some angled parking on either end, which ties into the existing development.
"This option creates five deeper blocks of development potential along the waterfront," North said, noting potential development could include a hotel and some commercial or office buildings.
What is described as the "C" block envisions townhomes and/or flats. Multifamily buildings are offered in another block, where there is more space.
The west alignment, North said, leaves room on the bluff side for a meandering multi-use path. It also creates a looped trail with the waterfront around the entire property. Future pedestrian access points are offered through each of the blocks.
Along with a location for a future pump station, trailhead parking on the west alternative would connect to the existing stairs up to the Nob Hill Nature Park.
Describing the east alignment, North said South First Street is pushed down and more centrally located between the bluff and the waterfront. This concept creates four narrower blocks on the waterfront side and one block of development on the bluff side of the street.
After North described the alignments, two city council members voiced reservations.
"I have great problems with all of these alignments," Councilor Steve Topaz said, noting he wants people to come downtown. "I would prefer to have one of these streets very close to the river so you could drive by and look at the river."
Topaz added, "In order to get people here, we need a road to the river."
Councilor Jessica Chilton said, "I can't help but just worry. My immediate thought looking at this is I don't think that there's enough public access on that riverside."
Chilton added, "I know we've done some surveys recently, and there are a lot of things people are expecting to see over there. It just doesn't look like there's a lot of space left on that left side of the road for the public. That is concerning to me."
North summed up the two alignments presented at the public forum.
"Both alignments have many benefits," North said. "The west alignment provides larger parcel opportunities and a little bit greater development flexibility, which is why the design team and the staff have recommended it as the preferred alignment."
Nelson stresses that potential development opportunities shown on the alignment alternatives are conceptual only, to be further developed by others under separate review and approval processes.
Hanson is a big fan of the west alignment, noting, "I think the west alignment just works beautifully."
The City Council agreed, voting unanimously to endorse the west alignment following the public forum.
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