Merced city general plan and EIR final draft available to public

How will Merced look in 19 years?

Imagine an improved economy, many choices on how to move around and more options on where to live.

At least, that's what Merced officials envision for the city with the Final Merced Vision 2030 General Plan and its environmental impact report. They were made available for the public to examine Friday.

The report is part of the general plan, which needs to be updated to reflect the growth, land development and infrastructure changes the city has gone through the past few years.

The city hopes to implement the Merced Vision 2030 General Plan, which would turn Merced into a dynamic urban entity by 2030. The final environmental impact report provided responses to submissions received during the comment period of the draft report last year.

Public agencies and citizens responded in 25 letters, regarding matters ranging from traffic to Merced County's worries about Castle Farms, a proposed mixed-use development at Highway 59 and Bellevue Road, and the general plan's effect on Castle Commerce Center.

David Gonzalves, the city's development services director, said it's a massive document, one that "people from all parts and walks of life will comment on."

He said the comments came from, among others, "folks who are interested in natural resources and alternative means of transportation."

For example, the Merced County Farm Bureau expressed concerns about the possible loss of ag land, which it voiced in a letter to the mayor earlier this year.

Gonzalves said one solution for mitigating ag land loss is the city thinking of using "infill," or land inside the city. "It (the land) would have high population density, and we don't grow into areas that have ag production," he explained.

Councilman John Carlisle, who hadn't yet finished studying the whole plan by Friday afternoon, was concerned about the city's footprint. "We're adding a huge amount of land," he said. "The city is proposing a big leap; we have issues with water and farmland issues. We're looking at paving more -- a lot of prime ag land. It just seems like it's an awful lot of increase."

He said he had a hard time envisioning that much growth. "I think that the general plan is really a starting point and it can be modified as we go along," Carlisle said.

A big and positive change to the city will come from UC Merced, he said. "It'll grow, and besides attracting more students, they're talking about eventually hitting more than 5,000 to somewhere around 25,000 eventually. It's a long ways down the road but infrastructure to businesses and development that will come with that slowly," he said.

The tentative schedule for the plan and environmental impact report is to go to the Planning Commission meeting on July 20 for approval and then to the City Council in September for approval.

The state requires cities and counties to prepare an adopted general plan that should include seven issues, such as land use, transportation, housing and conservation. The old plan was last adopted in 1997.

The first copy of the CD version of the plan and environmental impact report is free; every additional copy is $5 at the Civic Center. A print copy is $60 or people can access it online for free at www.cityofmerced.org.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsun-star.com.