City leaders move forward on yet another annexation plan
Once again, the Merced City Council has given a green light to another piece of potential residential paradise outside of the current city limits and into the farthest northern reaches of the city’s so-called “sphere of influence,” and even beyond.
Council members on Monday night unanimously voiced their support for a pre-annexation application that would add 1,023 acres located northwest of Lake Yosemite into the city. Within that area is the planned Yosemite Lake Village — a 764-acre mixed-use residential development project that also connects to a nature conservation area that spans about 450 acres, and the established, fully-equipped Merced Golf and Country Club.
Developers say the project would add about 2,708 housing units to the local market. This would include 690 “active adult” units for residents over the age of 55.
But it’s not just everyday housing. One of the architects described the new neighborhoods as a wonderful opportunity to create modern residential villages with today’s most popular home models and connect them to pedestrian trails, bike paths, expansive nature spaces and quaint commercial areas and gathering spots featuring coffee shops and deli-type eateries.
“The goal is that it is really a small-town, neighborhood community that is pedestrian-oriented,” he said.
The amenities were enough to prompt Council member Fernando Echevarria — known to have a laser focus on developments for his own District 2 in south Merced — to declare this proposed growth to the far north as “probably one of the greatest housing projects that I’ve ever seen.”
A majority of the Yosemite Lake Village project site is currently owned by the Gallo family, as well as other property owners like the Golf and Country Club, which has about 113 acres.
The project described on Monday night is only the latest annexation idea in a growing list of targeted areas.
Since 2019, City of Merced staff have been involved in a “expansion feasibility study” for a whopping 7,600 acres of land north of the current city limits with the goal of enveloping UC Merced.
This process was expedited a year later when the state approved AB3312, legislation sponsored by Assembly member Adam Gray, that allows the city to annex the university along a shoe-string Lake Road strip. As that finally happens, the development floodgates will open for the Virginia Smith Trust land south of campus and some major properties immediately west of campus (described as by the ownership names “Callister/Rucker,” “Lakireddy,” “Opinski”).
Meanwhile the city has also give the “pre-annexation” thumbs up for another 151 acres of land owned by the Rogina family on the west side of G Street at Old Lake Road.
The site appears destined to become a mixed-use development with roughly 138,700 square feet of neighborhood commercial land and 11 acres of open space or park use. This will include an estimated 522 to 608 low-density residential housing units and 162 to 324 high-medium density residential units.
Many would agree that all this new housing is just what this low-vacancy-rate city needs. The criticism comes, however, when residents start talking about leap-frog development. Some are not happy that the city is pursuing development so far north when there’s a lot of land in between that is waiting for the same thing, not to mention, becoming part of the city and enjoying those services.
“A number of years ago, I sat on the committee that developed the Bellevue Corridor master plan and it was adopted by the City Council,” resident Dan Holmes told leaders. “We are now skipping over that. Roughly 2,000 acres or more to move with annexation. I think we ought to wait until the area south of Farmland, north of Cardella, and east of G Street develops at a higher level before we start jumping over Old Lake Road and getting all of the development out there. The infrastructure is not there. Infrastructure is not only sewer and water, but it’s roads. As this area develops, and there is 2,700 houses built out there, you got G Street, Bellevue Road, Old Lake Road, and Golf Road that will be impacted.”
Holmes added that infrastructure also means grocery stores. He was among six people who spoke against the project.
Derek Price called the new annexation plan “interesting and fun to look at,” but he said it also was “poor planning for our city to be stretched to this proposed area.”
“If this area were to be annexed, it would leave hundred of acres of undeveloped land within the city, skipping over very important areas where limited resources should be focused.”
He and others went on to stress the potential for unnecessary urban sprawl and more demands on the city’s ability to provide police and fire protection, water and sewer, public transportation and school needs.
Community activist and affordable housing advocate, Sheng Xiong, even brought up the dreaded theme of race and racial division that has sometimes dominated discussion at recent council meetings.
“This is so far north, and so far disproportionately white, and higher income, that we are focusing all of our staff time on that,” she told leaders and staff. “It creates inequity. … The staff is spending a disproportionate amount of their time on north Merced. This goes back to equity. When they talk to sewer, water infrastructure, being on septic tanks and private wells, there are people in existing disadvantaged, unincorporated communities right now that still need access to this type of infrastructure.”
Councilman Kevin Blake would later push back on Xiong’s remarks.
“It was interesting to me that we were able to draw race into this,” the senior council member reflected. “It’s just amazing to me. I don’t understand it. With that being said, I think it’s a great project. With an under 1 percent vacancy rate [in Merced] housing is needed.”
The Times has also talked to other landowners who live west of Lake Road below UC Merced who are upset the city is not including their area for annexation and development. Some are in need of city water services. Others want a chance to profit from developers. They wonder what happened to the Bellevue Corridor plan, and they question the size of the most recent annexation projects that have been coming to the city.
For readers to have an idea of size, the 1,023 acres included in Monday’s proposal is approximately the size of the existing area between Olive Avenue and Yosemite Avenue from M Street. to McKee Road.
Also, one source told the Times after the meeting: “Without the approval of the Rogina annexation first on the northwest corner of G Street and Old Lake Road, the Gallo annexation only touches the existing city limits for less than 10 feet, and that is ‘leap frog development’ not allowed by LAFCO law.”
An city annexation application process can last up to 18 months. The Yosemite Lake Village project will ultimately go back before the City Council and the Merced County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).
Stay tuned for more annexation news to come.