Court upholds denial of writ petition challenging approval of project in Helena

By Takesha Thomas | Jan 31, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO – Two neighborhood groups have lost an appeal in a suit over the planned development of a residential building in Helena.

The Court of Appeal of the State of California, 1st Appellate District, Division Five affirmed the Napa County Superior Court's ruling that denied McCorkle Eastside Neighborhood Group and St. Helena Residents for an Equitable General Plan's petition for peremptory and administrative writ of mandate in their suit against the city of St. Helena, et al. The decision was made Jan. 10.

The groups filed the appeal after the trial court denied their petition in a despite against the city and the city council of St. Helena over the approval of an eight-unit, multifamily residential building on McCorkle Avenue. In 2017, the city council approved a resolution granting demolition and design review permits to real party in interest Joe McGrath.

The plaintiffs argued that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when the city council "failed to consider any environmental issues relating to" the project, and the city "abused its discretion under CEQA by approving the demolition permit and design review without requiring an environmental impact report," the ruling states.

McGrath purchased the 770-acre lot on McCorkle Avenue in 2016 with the intention to build multifamily dwellings on the property. According to the court order, "the lot contained a dilapidated single-family home and its soil had been contaminated with lead by a prior occupant. McGrath committed to remediating this contamination with Napa County."

The order states McGrath submitted an application for a demolition permit to demolish the existing structure as well as a design review plan. A hearing was held in December 2016 before the city's planning commission for the proposed project.

According to the order, the planning commission's report determined "the proposed project fell within the Class 32 infill exemption of CEQA Guidelines section 15332 and was thus exempt from CEQA."

The planning commission approved the demolition and design review permits finding that the project was exempt from CEQA under CEQA Guidelines section 15332 and "would not cause any significant environmental effects."

The plaintiffs filed an appeal and a hearing was held before the city council in January 2017. The city council voted to deny the groups' appeal and approved the planning commission's recommendations. 

The group then filed an petition alleging violations of CEQA and local zoning laws.

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