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St. Helens holds meetings, 'open house' to kick off plan

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - A meeting was held between the city of St. Helens, consultants and local businesspeople Tuesday, Jan. 14, to discuss design options for a project that aims to update St. Helens' master plan for its main transportation corridors.Work will begin in earnest this year on a project that aims to incorporate modern urban planning and design elements into the St. Helens master plan, following an “open house” and municipal Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, Jan. 14.

The St. Helens Street Corridor Master Plan project has a goal of creating fairly specific plans for updating and renovating areas of central St. Helens along Highway 30 and in the Houlton and Old Town business districts.

Jacob Graichen, St. Helens city planner, said the purpose of Tuesday’s meetings — which also included a meeting between city staff, project consultants, and representatives from businesses and other properties within the planning areas — was mostly to review design elements available to the city as it begins mapping out how it wants its main streets and sidewalks to look, as well as discuss the scope and focus of the project.

“This is to get people to start thinking about it,” Graichen said Monday. “After this meeting, then the plan is going to slowly start taking shape.”

Elements outlined in a technical memorandum published online in advance of the open house that St. Helens could use include sidewalk “bulb-outs,” in which sidewalks curve out and extend slightly into the roadway at street corners to reduce the length of crossings; speed tables, raised sections of road that serve as pedestrian crossings in the middle of city blocks and slow down street traffic; and bollards, short posts that can be lined up to separate vehicular traffic from sidewalks. The memo suggests areas where some of these elements could be employed and what purposes they might serve.

The corridor plan is being funded by a $200,000 grant awarded to the city in October. Graichen said the money comes from federal dollars, but the grant itself is administered by state agencies.

The project focus does not include engineering — much less construction — of the changes that the city government may want to see to its street corridors.

“This is not going to give us engineering or construction drawings. But it gets us one step further,” Graichen said. “The step after that will be, ‘How do we fund this? How do we get it done?’ And there will be cheap things and expensive things, probably.”

Graichen said there is value of incorporating desired changes and additions along St. Helens’ main streets into the city’s master plan, even if the city may not be able to pay for their construction right away, because the plan will remain in place even if there is staff turnover or changes on the City Council or Planning Commission.

“It’s about staying organized,” said Graichen.

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