Merced County Times Newspaper
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A Vision Of Merced’s New Promised Land

Let’s build a bike path around Lake Yosemite
Let’s build a bike path around Lake Yosemite

With wildfire smoke over our heads, a drought at our feet, and not much housing within our reach, it sure was nice at this week’s Merced City Council meeting to get a glimpse of some possible future growth for the City of Merced.

We’ve all heard about the new community being planned near Lake Yosemite and the lone campus of UC Merced.

But what’s it going to look like?

While there was only a very preliminary review at City Hall on Monday night, elected leaders and residents learned a great deal more about a proposed part of that “university community” vision. It’s an impressive development plan for 291 acres of prime real estate that’s in line for annexation into the City of Merced.

They are calling it “University Vista” — a mix of homes, apartments, and commercial ventures bounded by Bellevue Road to the south, Lake Road to the east, and Golf Road to the west. UC Merced is located adjacent to the extremely “visible” southeast corner of the development at Bellevue and Lake roads. That’s where the first stage of the project will begin if plans are approved and the developers move forward.

At full buildout — after a projected 10 years in three separate phases — there would be an estimated 4,176 dwelling units within mixed-use housing, student housing, apartments, townhomes and single-family homes. And of note, the words “affordable housing” do appear in the pre-application documents submitted to the city.

“We do not intend to come in and deliver a product that is not suitable to the community at large,” said Bobby Laughlin, the portfolio manager for the investment group behind the project. “It is largely a function of really just us trying to be part of the solution for Merced. The growth has been explosive. And I think that the more supply, the better. And obviously that supply has to be at a quality that is sufficient to serve everybody. So that is 100 percent the goal.”

City officials touted the project’s investment management group, Playa Vista Equities, and the consulting team entities as top notch and highly experienced. At previous City Council meetings, the ownership of the land in question was referred to as “Callister / Rucker.”

Along with the housing at University Vista, there’s also plans for 778,486 square feet of commercial space and “employment centers,” a central park, walking trails, environmental zones, and even a hotel / hospitality zone next to the lake.

The proposed project is estimated to generate 846 direct jobs as well as 266 indirect jobs when incorporating the total economic impact. Meanwhile, some 1,772 construction jobs are expected to be created per year of the buildout.

The project site is also located within the boundary of the Bellevue Community Plan, and it aligns well with the BCP vision.

The UC Merced campus is expected to reach its ultimate capacity of 15,000 students, 440 faculty, and 1,625 on-campus employees by the year 2030. The developers say University Vista can support the university’s student housing, commercial, educational and research facilities.

University Vista, along with three other properties adjacent to the UC Merced campus, are in line for annexation into the city under a non-traditional process. Assembly Bill 3312, adopted in 2020 by the state, allows the City of Merced to annex the campus via a road strip. AB 3312 also would allow “the subsequent annexation of limited properties contiguous to the UC Merced main campus once the UC campus is annexed to the city.”

However, city officials note that annexation is a long process wrought with negotiations, environmental reviews and public hearings.

Stay tuned. This University Vista project is moving forward with city planners. Members of the Merced City Council, who requested to get updates on any preliminary annexation application that comes in, indicated their general support for the project on Tuesday night.

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