The Planning Division is responsible for taking various applications for development through the public hearing process before the Planning Commission and City Council. Below is a brief description of each of these applications. At the bottom of the page are application forms listed under various subheadings. Under the "General Information" section below are a series of summaries, provided by the Institute for Local Government, which explain in plain language what is involved in many of the most common planning applications. This is general information NOT specific to the City of Merced, but provided for general information only.
ANNEXATION is the process of bringing county land into the City of Merced. Substantial development of adjacent county properties first requires annexation to the City. Annexations are generally the most complicated and time consuming process of local government. This is due to the involvement of various agencies and the application of laws requiring adequate public notice. Most annexations take 12 to 18 months to complete if there are few complications.
APPEALS of decisions made by anybody may be made to the next highest decision-making body. Appeals may be made by any citizen or group, including the applicant and the City. All decisions are final at the City Council level. When filing an appeal, specific actions, conditions, and reasons must be given for the appeal. At the appeal hearings, the decision-making body may review and act on all aspects of the use, not just those being appealed.
CONDITIONAL USE PERMITS allow the proper integration into the community of uses which may be suitable only in specific locations. Conditional uses must be designed or laid out on the site in a particular manner to reduce adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. If certain findings are made, conditional uses may be denied. Likewise, a conditional use may be conditioned to enable the city to control the extent of the use. Also, if conditions are not met, the CUP may be revoked and the use caused to cease. The Planning Commission approves conditional use permits (CUP), which takes approximately 12 weeks. (Standard Conditions that apply to all CUP's can be downloaded under "Development Applications" below.)
DETERMINATIONS by the Planning Commission are required if the Zoning Ordinance is unclear regarding a given topic. The Planning Commission will make a decision which may result in a Zoning Ordinance amendment. Inquire at the Planning Department to see if a determination may be necessary for a project.
GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENTS are the way to change the designation of a planned and/or future land use on the General Plan The General Plan outlines the goals of the community and sets forth where and how the community should grow. Because the concepts of the General Plan are interrelated and comprehensive, the City has chosen to limit amending the General Plan to only three times per year. That way, the City can look at trends rather than individual projects. The Planning Commission recommends to the City Council who makes the final decision. The amendment process takes approximately 16 weeks if there are few complications.
MINOR SUBDIVISIONS include parcel maps (creating four or fewer lots), boundary adjustments (moving a property line, but keeping the same number of lots), or lot mergers (combining two or more lots) and are reviewed by the Minor Subdivision Committee. The Minor Subdivision Review Committee determines whether a proposal complies with existing codes and ordinances, and conditions maps appropriately. Only property owners of all affected properties may apply for a minor subdivision. Most minor subdivisions take two to three weeks to process. A parcel map must be drawn by a registered engineer and requires a public hearing which lengthens the process by two weeks.
PLANNED DEVELOPMENT ESTABLISHMENT provides a zone which allows initial flexibility in design and zoning requirements while at the same time imposing specific developmental controls and plans to protect the character and quality of adjacent uses. Once a planned development zone is established, all future development must comply with these newly established controls and plans. Controls can include style of architecture, setbacks, land uses, circulation, landscaping, building size, signage and other requirements. The City Council makes the final action on planned development establishments giving consideration to the Planning Commission recommendation. It takes a minimum of twelve weeks to process the application. All future development within a planned development requires conditional use permit approval.
PRE-ZONING is an associated step in the annexation process. A city may pre-zone unincorporated territory adjoining the city for the purpose of determining the zoning that will apply to the property in the event of subsequent annexation to the City. The method of accomplishing pre-zoning is the same method used in re-zoning property within the city limits. Pre-zoning becomes effective zoning on the property at the same time that the annexation becomes effective. If a pre-zoning application is not approved, the property will be automatically zoned R-1-6 ( single-family residential) upon annexation. The City Council makes the final decision on pre-zonings following recommendations from the Planning Commission.
SEWER/WATER requests provide the opportunity for county residents to abandon their well or septic tank and hook up to City sewer or water services. The City only approves sewer or water requests to county residents if there is a documented (by the County Health Department) health hazard or if an annexation is pending. The City Council may act on sewer/water requests without a Planning Commission recommendation. This process may only take six to eight weeks. The applicant should check on Engineering Department fees, installation charges, and plumber’s costs before pursuing this application. Costs can be substantial.
SITE UTILIZATION PLAN REVISION is the means by which a planned development condition or design element may be changed. To revise conditions or design of a planned development, the applicant must demonstrate compelling reasons why a change is necessary. Revisions should be kept to a minimum because a planned development involves the integration of various concepts which should not be unraveled by numerous revisions. The Planning Commission makes a recommendation to the City Council, who makes the final decision. The process generally takes 12 to 16 weeks.
SUBDIVISIONS involve the creation of five or more lots or condominiums. Subdivision maps must be drawn by a registered engineer. Subdivisions are reviewed according to the provisions of the State of California Subdivision Map Act and local codes and ordinances. However, any condition may be applied to the subdivision to protect the interest of the project, surrounding property and neighborhood. The review process is quite lengthy because of interim meetings with the applicant, engineer and utility companies. It is generally 8 to 12 weeks before the Planning Commission takes action. After the Planning Commission’s approval, the applicant has two years to file for a final subdivision map unless an extension is requested and approved. (Standard Conditions that apply to all Tentative Subdivision Maps can be downloaded under "Development Applications" below.)
ZONE CHANGES allow for changing the boundaries of zoning districts whenever the public necessity, convenience, and general welfare require such amendments. An amendment may be initiated by the City Council, by the Planning Commission, or by application from one or more owners of property affected by the proposed amendment. THE APPLICANT MUST DEMONSTRATE THAT THE PUBLIC NECESSITY, CONVENIENCE, AND GENERAL WELFARE REQUIRE THE AMENDMENT. Most often, a General Plan amendment must accompany a zone change application. The City Council acts on zone changes after hearing the recommendation of the Planning Commission.