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Helena leaders, developers agree on wider road widths at new retail site

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Vandelay Avenue

A contractor crosses Vandelay Avenue in October at the old Capital Hill Mall site where new development is under construction.

The Helena City Commission approved the dedication of two streets, which are now wider, within the Capital Hill MallĀ redevelopment site as public rights of way during Monday's meeting after it denied an earlier request.

The roadways in question, Vandelay Avenue and Oakes Street, were proposed to be established and reestablished, respectively, as city-owned public rights of way, meaning the city would collect street assessment fees from the property owners for purpose of maintenance.

The request for dedication was denied because of Vandelay Avenue's initially proposed width as narrow as 50 feet in some places, which did not align with the city's "complete streets" design standards and violated fire code.

The developer, D&M Development, met again with city staff and came back Monday with an amended design that widened Vandelay Avenue to varied widths ranging from 66 feet to 82 feet.

The city's adopted engineering and design standards; complete streets standards; public right-of-way accessibility guidelines; and city fire code all require a minimum width of such streets of 60 feet.

"I'm grateful to the developer for coming back and working with staff, and I'm exciting that we're getting to a good place here to move forward," City Commissioner Emily Dean said.

Mark Esponda, a vice president of the Dick Anderson Construction subsidiary developing the site, expressed his gratitude to city staff.

"We as a developer really appreciate the city manager and the city staff's time and efforts to come to some resolution on this right-of-way," Esponda said. "It was challenging I think for everyone to get there, but we all had some great meetings and moved forward in some positive directions."

The site is currently home to a Starbucks and Taco Bell, and developers plan to build an Opportunity Bank operations center used for training employees and a nearly 60,000-square-foot Benefis Helena Specialty Center housing four operating rooms and offering a variety of primary and specialty care services.

Construction of the Benefis facility is expected to be completed by 2023.

The site falls within the city's most recently established redevelopment district.

City Commissioner Heather O'Loughlin echoed sentiments of gratitude for both parties reaching a consensus on the design because of the site's importance in the city's overall redevelopment strategy.

"I think that there is a lot of opportunity in this area," O'Loughlin said.

She also noted the difficulties the city will face redeveloping the Capital Hill Mall area in the future, citing U.S. Highway 12 running as one-ways to the site's north and south.

"That's a longer-term conversation, but I think what we truly started to envision when we were thinking about an urban renewal district in this area, and the work with WGM (the engineering firm working on the project) to think about what could this area really look like in what our community envisions."

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Local Government and Crime Reporter

Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government and crime.

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