The City Council has voted to approve a highly-contested development plan for medical office space adjacent to a residential neighborhood in north Merced.
The council meeting went for about four hours as both side make their cases for and against the project. It was 11:30 p.m. Monday when the council voted 4-2 to approve a zoning change that would allow the development.
Local homeowners continually criticized the project, arguing the development would dangerously increase traffic around nearby Herbert Cruickshank Middle School and drastically reduce the standard of living for residents.
The zoning change will allow V&S Real Estate Investments, LLC to move forward with its four-building office complex south of Mercy Medical Center.
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The council rejected a similar proposal a little more than a year ago in the face of strong opposition by neighborhood residents, but the proponents of this most recent and scaled-back development plan convinced city leaders it made sense.
Councilmen Tony Dossetti and Noah Lor changed direction from a year ago, voting in favor of the zoning change this time.
The project has been improved over the last year, Lor said. “There will be more trees. The applicant is willing to extend the roads and accommodate all the concerns in the area.”
“I think it will certainly be a benefit for all citizens in Merced, especially those that need to access health care,” he added. “I’m looking at the project as a one-stop-shop. You have the hospital there. It will certainly benefit the whole community.”
Councilmen Mike Murphy and Josh Pedrozo, who have been steadfast in their support, also voted to move ahead with the project.
“With safety in mind, I don't think it's going to be as big an issue as people say,” Murphy said. “I think the developer has done a lot to mitigate the impacts. Everything has an impact, but I think they've been addressed in a way that works.”
Mayor Stan Thurston and Councilman Bill Blake voted in opposition. Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling was absent.
“I think it's a good project. I think it's the wrong location,” Blake said. “I don't see significant alterations. I think the space is just wrong. This particular neighborhood is opposed to it. I just feel, at the end of the day, fairness would be served by listening to the people that live out there.”
With Merced’s economy recovering, the need for a project like this has diminished, Thurston said.
“We have come a long way in 14 months,” he said. "At this time this project is obviously far less significant to Merced's economic growth. The major issues the council faced (concerning the project) a year ago are still there. Traffic is still a huge problem.
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.
The developer has proposed to build according to market demand, constructing three two-story buildings and one single-story building only after buyers for the units are found. Conditional-use permits issued by the Merced Planning Commission will be required before construction begins.