Almost all 100 chairs set out for Merced area residents and stakeholders of an annexation project — one that could increase the city’s land size by more than 50 percent — were full Tuesday, as property holders expressed concerns about how incorporating their land could change their lives.
The city’s first public meeting on the possible 7,670-acre annexation area north and northeast of Merced revealed many possible issues that could sprout up as city planners and consultants work with neighboring landowners and developers to address expected growth of the city and UC Merced area.
“First of all, we had a great turnout,” said Ron Sissem, a principal at ECM Planning Group, the Monterey-based consultancy hired by the city. “It tells me people are engaged, they’re interested and they want and have a stake in the concepts for how this area might develop over time.”
The annexation area includes an assortment of rural, farmed, undeveloped and partially developed land stretching from the the city’s current Bellevue Road border north and east to Yosemite Lake, then south from the UC Merced to Yosemite Avenue.
The annexation project is an extension of the city’s current general plan, but it’s in the very preliminary stages, city officials said, adding that feedback from the public is essential to planning what the annexation would look like.
Sissem, along with Merced City Planning Manager Kim Espinosa and Director of Development Services Scott McBride, explained the process of the annexation to residents.
First, a six-month feasibility study would be conducted before annexation proposals start coming in.
The study takes a look at barriers to development — including natural resources and flooding hazards, the installation of sewer, utility and road improvements, future opportunities for development, how annexations may be proposed and rough estimates for the annexation and improvement of land.
Finalized annexation proposals in the designated area would first would need to get approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission of Merced County, which could take several years. If cleared and approved by the Merced City Council, landowners in the proposed annexation can apply to be incorporated into the city. They can also protest petitions for annexations affecting their properties.
What concerned the majority of people attending, most of whom were living on properties of a couple acres in size, was the potential cost it would take for them to annex into the city.
Residents in the Hillcrest area said their analysis showed extending city water lines and other improvements to the neighborhoods could cost each homeowner up to $50,000.
Planning officials said the feasibility study was too much in its early stages to provide a guide, but the city would later give residents a better sense of what water hookups will cost.
Some property owners also wondered how annexation would affect what they could do on their land. Espinosa said each annexation would need to be looked at to determine what the land was being used for at the time of annexation, and what uses were originally allowed under agreements with Merced County.
“This is kind of the first time the public has been engaged,” McBride said, noting the goal of the meeting was to provide information, and hear the concerns of the 15 groups of stakeholders in the annexation area. “I think we’re pretty clear today that we don’t have all the answers. And a lot of what we (want to) know is what their concerns are so we can articulate information or strategies to address those going forward.”
More information on the annexation plans can be accessed at https://www.cityofmerced.org/depts/cd/planning/north_merced_annexation_feasibility_study_(2019).asp. City planners also will plan more public meetings for citizens to provide public input in the coming months, McBride said.