North Merced medical office plan draws flak again

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMarch 21, 2013 

— Area residents continue to oppose a recently resurrected plan to build a multi-story medical office complex in a neighborhood in north Merced.

"They want to change the whole concept of the neighborhood," said resident Robert Parker. "It's a beautiful complex they want to build, but they need to build it in another space. It's not a fit for this residential community."

V&S Real Estate Investments LLC pitched the idea to the city last year.

While the Planning Commission got behind the proposal, the City Council voted it down due to public concern, including increased traffic around nearby Cruickshank Middle School.

A scaled-back version of the plan went before the Planning Commission on Wednesday.

The revised project is an 117,800-square-foot, four-building office complex on the south side of Mercy Avenue between the future Sandpiper Avenue and Mansionette Drive. The original plan was for a 133,000-square-foot complex.

This project would help establish the medical industry growing up around Mercy Medical Center and UC Merced, said Planning Commission Chairman Travis Colby.

"We have to be concerned with more than the neighborhood, but the city as a whole," he said. "For the city as a whole this is an appropriate fit."

However, with more than a dozen frustrated neighborhood residents in attendance, the board clashed on the issue.

"Whenever the community comes to the Planning Commission in the numbers they did, that's going to weigh heavy on my decision," said Commissioner Dwight Amey, who opposed the project.

With Vice Chairwoman Kimberly Madayag absent, the commission could not agree on a recommendation to the City Council.

Commissioner Dwight Amey made a motion to deny the project, supported by newly appointed Commissioners Nathan Mackin and Peter Padilla. Colby made a motion to approve, with Commissioners Brandon Williams and Carole McCoy voting with him.

The project now is scheduled to go before the City Council on May 6, when both sides will have another chance to make their case. In order for the plan to move forward, the council must agree to rezone the area in question for commercial use.

Living next to commercial offices is often more pleasant than living next to a residential area, said Duane Andrews, co-owner of Golden Valley Engineering, which is designing the project.

"It's quiet," he said. "There's nobody there after 5 p.m., and there's nobody there on the weekend. You don't hear dogs barking, lawnmowers or late night parties."

While supporters of the project argue traffic concerns have been addressed, many remain unconvinced.

"That is going to bring a lot of traffic there," said Gene Stamm, Merced City School District board member. "Traffic is the main concern I have. We've got traffic already. We have to look out for the safety of our kids."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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