Planning & Permitting

Are inflatable signs allowed?

An inflatable sign may be permitted only for a grand opening of a business, for fourteen (14) days, and with Planning Department approval.  Please contact the Planning Department.

Are temporary signs allowed in Merced? 

Yes, with prior approval and completing a Temporary Sign Permit Application, a commercial business or activity on any commercially zoned property, or an apartment or condominium complex, not to exceed one-hundred twenty (120) days for commercial and ninety (90) days for apartment or condominium complexes in one calendar year.  There is no fee for processing this application.  Also, the temporary sign cannot exceed more than thirty (30) days at any one time.  There are restrictions on what type of temporary sign you can have.  For instance pennants, sandwich boards, banners tied to parking lot lights or trees, in the right-of- way, or in the landscaping are not allowed.  One banner affixed to the building wall is permitted.

Can I build a second unit on my property?

It depends on the Zoning of your property and the size of your parcel.  Properties zoned R-1-5 may not add a second unit.  In some cases, properties zoned R-1-6, may add a second unit.  However, it may be limited to a “Second Unit” of no more than 600 square feet.  Please contact the Planning Department at 209-385-6858 or refer to MMC 20.54.350.

Changes/Requirements if Annexation Occurs

Taxes.  No change will occur.  All properties are taxed at the same rates whether annexed to the city or not (approximately one percent of assessed value).  That is, city and county property owners pay the same tax rates. 

Sewer Service.  All homes in the annexed area would be allowed to hook up to city sewers.  This is now prohibited in county areas except for documented health problems for a failing septic tank or water well.  (There may be homes in some proposed annexation areas which have sewer service already via previous agreements.) 

Is Sewer Service Required?  Not immediately, but all homes are required to hook up to the sewer within six years of the annexation date if it is at all practical.  Undeveloped parcels need not hook up to sewer services until development begins unless the property owners wish to have the services and are willing to pay for them. 

Cost of Sewer Service.  There will be costs for hooking up to the city sewer for properties not currently being served.  Estimates range from $4,000 to $8,000 per house.  Additional costs might occur depending on how much work is involved and how far lines would have to be extended.  It might be advantageous for a special sewer district to be set up to spread these costs over a longer period of time.  The city could do this if there were sufficient citizen requests.  Monthly service fees after hookup currently are $17.08 per month for a single-family residence.  Once sewer is available to individual properties, all previously used septic systems and wells would be abandoned. 

Water Service.  All homes in an annexed area would be allowed to hook up to city water service (in some cases, water service has already been extended into an area by the former water company which was purchased by the city in the early 1970’s).  Water rates are metered, and the costs range from $22.00/month to $23.00/month (minimum).  The estimated cost to hook up to city water service ranges from $5,200 - $7,500 for single-family dwellings. 

Other Public Improvements.  Other public improvements may be requested at a later time such as sidewalks, curb and gutters, street trees, or streetlights.  These would be required along the frontage of property if substantial remodeling or building was to take place after annexation on an individual lot basis.  If desired by a neighborhood, a special district could be established to install these items.  The city may also establish a special district to install public improvements for larger public improvements such as streets, sidewalks, etc. 

Garbage Collection.  Pickup of garbage would be done eventually by the city.  Current rates for this service are approximately $16.29 per month (for one can) for “curbside” service (a second container is $10.33 per month), or $60.47 per month for “Pack-out” service.  The Green Waste container is $3.52 per month and the Blue Recycling container is $3.52 per month.  One type of service, curbside or pack-out, would be established for the entire area after annexation. City service would not begin until the private hauler franchise expires, but no later than five years from annexation.  There is no garbage charge for undeveloped parcels until the service is being used. 

Mistletoe Abatement.  There is a periodic mistletoe abatement process within the city.  Property owners have the choice of hiring a private firm to eliminate any visible infestations on their property(ies) or allowing the city to provide this service subject to a pre-published hourly rate. 

Fire Protection.  Fire protection service would be provided by the City Fire Department.  The city has an excellent fire protection rating and fire insurance rates are generally lower in the city than under county jurisdiction.  If there are an insufficient number of fire hydrants in an newly annexed area, the city would likely require installation of fire hydrants probably by special assessment. 

Police Protection.  Police protection service would be provided by the City Police Department.  The department has a highly trained staff of police officers.  Response time to any call for emergencies is usually five to eight minutes. 

Zoning.  Zoning for an annexed area would be established at the time of annexation, consistent with the City’s General Plan for the area.  For example, a recent annexation east of Parsons Avenue and south of Childs Avenue was designated for low density residential uses on the General Plan.  Correspondingly, the parcel was zoned R-1-6 when it was annexed, for single-family residential uses. 

Election.  After annexation, residents of the area would become citizens of the city and be entitled to vote in city elections, and hold elective and appointive office. 

Property owners are encouraged to visit or call the City Planning Department, 678 W. 18th Street, to discuss questions, future plans, or options resulting from annexation; phone (209) 385-6858.  The costs noted above are currently in effect (March 2003), but they are subject to change.

Do I need a license with Merced City if I currently have a license with the County?

Yes, if you are based within the city limits or are entering the city to conduct your business activities.  Merced City and Merced County are two separate jurisdictions, where a license with the City covers business conducted on incorporated areas within the city limits, and a license with the County is valid for the unincorporated areas of the county (outside city limits).  When you enter one jurisdiction from another with the intent to conduct your business activities, you must be licensed for that area.  If you are not sure where the city limit line begins, the most current street map for Merced County, such as those published by Rand McNally, may be of help, or you may feel free to call the Planning Department at (209)385-6858 to verify that information.

Do I need a Sign Permit to change only the face of a sign?

Yes.  Please contact the Planning Department at (209) 385-6858.

Do I need a Sign Permit to put up a sign on my property?

Yes. There are three separate sign sections of the Merced City Sign Ordinance (General Regulations; Regulations for North Merced; and Regulations for Redevelopment Project Areas.  If your business is within the Redevelopment Project Area, a Design Review Application will be required in addition to a building permit.  Please contact the Planning Department at (209) 385-6858.  See Merced Municipal Code Section 17.36 – Signs  - for more information. 

How do I determine the zoning of my property?

You may contact the Planning Department at 209-385-6858.  You may also refer to the map at the following link, but be aware that updates occur on a regular basis.  Before buying property, please contact the Planning Department to confirm the zoning.  Zoning maps are available for purchase at the Planning Department for $10.

How do I find my property lines?

The City does not have official survey records for parcels.  In order to accurately determine property line location, you will need to contact a Land Surveying or Engineering Firm.  If you need the dimensions of your property, you may come in to the Planning Department to obtain a copy of a the Assessor’s Parcel Map for your property.

How high can I build my fence?

The maximum height for a backyard fence is 6-feet tall.  Front yard fencing may be a maximum of 4-feet tall with the exception of corner lots and the visual corner of a driveway.  On a corner and in the visual corner of a driveway, the maximum height is 2 ½’.   Please refer to MMC 20.62.040 for more information or contact the Planning Division at (209) 385-6858.

How is parking calculated for commercial uses?

Typically for retail and office uses, the parking requirements are based on the square footage of the commercial space.  For instance, parking for a most retail stores (except food) is one space for each 300 square feet and one space for each vehicle used in the conduct of the business. 

Business and professional offices (except medical and dental offices) are required to have one space for every 250 square feet and one space for each vehicle used in the conduct of the business. 

For more information on parking requirements please refer to Section 20.58 of the Merced Municipal Code or contact the City Planning Department at (209)385-6858.

How many parking spaces are required for a single-family dwelling?

Single-family dwellings are required to have one space of off-street parking.  This means the space must be outside of the required setback areas and be a minimum of 10’ x 20’ to qualify as a legal parking space.

How many parking spaces are required for multi-family dwellings?

Parking requirements for duplex multi-family dwellings are calculated based on the number of dwelling units.  For duplexes and multi-family developments up to 30 units, the requirement is 1.75 spaces for each dwelling unit and 1.5 spaces for each unit over 30.

How often is a license required to be renewed?

All business licenses shall be renewed quarterly, or every three months, before the start of the licensing period.  Due dates are: December 31st (for license period January-March); March 31st (for license period April-June); June 30th (for license period July-September); and September 30th (for license period October-December).  Please contact the Finance Department, (209)385-6843, for an explanation on how these charges are billed.

I run a non-profit business.  Do I need a business license?

In general, no business license is required, as long as proof is supplied that your organization is non-profit, usually with the non-profit ID number you receive from the Federal income tax bureau.  However, for historical land use tracking purposes, the City requests that you complete and file an application; no fees will be charged if the business is non-profit.  Please see MMC 05.04.190 regarding licensing for non-profit organizations.

I want to open a business at a commercial address in the City.  What do I need to do to obtain a business license?

A business license application, available from the Planning Department counter or on this web site, must be completed and submitted to the Planning Department, Merced Civic Center (2nd Floor), 678 W. 18th St., Merced CA  95340; Fax (209)725-8775. 

Upon receipt by City staff, the business location and its proposed use will be evaluated for proper zoning and building code standards for commercial land uses.  Inspections may be necessary and any required repairs and building and/or fire code upgrades (download Building Permit application), such as to install handicapped-access bathroom stalls or add separation walls, will be required to be completed before a license can be issued.  Once approved by Planning, Building, and Fire Departments, and as long as no other special approvals are required (see "What special approvals do I need for my business?" in this FAQ section), your application will be routed to the Finance Department for final processing.  If you have submitted your application by fax or by mail, you will be contacted by the Finance Department for any business license fees due and any additional information required to set up your business license application. 

Regarding signage for commercial properties, please follow this link to the City of Merced Sign Ordinance.

I want to open a business using my home as my business location.  What do I need to obtain permission to do so?

The City of Merced allows many types of businesses to operate from a residence, as long as they comply with the restrictions placed on such businesses in the City Ordinance for Home Occupations.  An application for a Home Occupation Permit must be completed and submitted with your business license application, and there is a one-time fee of $25.00 for the permit.   

The conditions placed on Home Occupations are necessary to protect the residential neighborhoods from being “commercialized”; therefore, holders of Home Occupation permits cannot have their customers come to their home to conduct business nor store any goods or equipment that is not normally found in a home.  Other conditions apply, so it is best to read the Municipal Code regarding this subject to make sure that you can abide by all regulations.


My business is growing and I’d like to open up another store on the other side of the City.  Can I use the same business license?

Per MMC 05.04.060, a separate business license is required for each separate place of business.  This also includes an administrative or clerical-only office, where no actual transactions will occur.

Please contact the Finance Department, (209)385-6843, to inquire about how the business license tax is handled in this regard.

What are the landscape requirements for a parking lot?

One tree must be provided for every six parking spaces or fraction thereof.

What businesses do not need to obtain a business license?

All business must be licensed, with the exception of: public utilities, banks, insurance companies,  day care providers providing care for eight or less children (licensed by the State of California), or apartments with two or less units (MMC 05.08.050).  Please see MMC 05.04.200 for details.

What can I build on my property?

The uses allowed on your property are determined by the zoning of the property.  To determine the zoning, please contact the Planning Department at (209) 385-6858.

What do I need to do for changes to existing licenses?

Whenever a business changes location, ownership, business name, or type of ownership (for example, changing from sole proprietorship to a corporation), you must re-submit a business license application reflecting the change.  Licenses are only valid for the person(s), partnership or corporation, location, or business name for which it is applied for and issued.  A change in ownership, including dropping or adding a partner, will be treated as a new business, which will likely require the payment of fees.  Please contact the Finance Department, Business Licensing Division at 209-385-6858, for fee rate information.

What fees do I pay to start my license?

Please contact the Finance Department at (209)385-6843 for details on business license fees.

What is a setback?

A setback is the distance from a property line or other point to the nearest vertical wall or other element of a building.

What is Annexation?

Annexation is the term used when an area of land under county jurisdiction is added to a city.   At least three public hearings are held and all property owners are notified of these hearings.

What is lot coverage?

Lot coverage is the area of a lot occupied by buildings, structures, and required parking areas unobstructed from the ground upward.  Lot coverage shall not include fences walls, hedges, swimming pools or uncovered patios.

What is the maximum lot coverage allowed?

The maximum lot coverage varies by zone.  Please refer to the table below for information on each zoning designation.






















What is the minimum setback for a single-family dwelling?

Setbacks are determined by a property’s zoning.  There are four setback areas for a single-family home.  These are the front, two side yards, and a rear yard setback.  Please refer to the site plan for an example.  (insert site plan)  In single-family residential zones, the driveway shall be a minimum of 20’.  








20 Feet

One Yard – 10 Feet

Other Yards – 5 Feet

20 Feet


15 Feet

One Yard – 10 Feet

Other Yards – 5 Feet

20 Feet

Contact the Planning Department for other zoning designations.



What is the minimum size for a parking space?

For single-family dwellings and duplexes, a parking space shall be a minimum of 10’ x 20’.  For commercial and multi-family uses, the minimum space shall be 8’6” x 20’.  However, 25% of the required parking spaces in a commercial or multi-family development may be designated as “compact” spaces and be a minimum of 8’ x 16’.  See the City of Merced Engineering Standards TC-8, TC-9, and TC-10 for more information. 

What special approvals do I need for my business?

Upon submittal of your completed application to the Planning Department, your proposed business activity will be evaluated for proper zoning (land use) and for any special requirements or conditions under which you can operate. 

Businesses that require special attention from the Police Department will be forwarded to that department for approval and/or additional processing.  Business activities requiring Police approval include the following:   


Firearms sales (MMC Chapter 5.12)              

Storage of explosives

                Alarm companies

Taxicabs and drivers (MMC Chapter 5.16)

                Tow companies and drivers

Loading permits

                Transportation permits (oversized loads)

Fire extinguisher refill businesses

                Solicitors (MMC 05.08.800 – 05.08.930)

Street and Sidewalk Vendors (MMC Chapter 5.54)

Curb Painting (MMC Chapter 5.56)

Limousine services

                Tattoo establishments

Private patrol, security services, and security guards (MMC Chapter 5.40)

Dance Permits (MMC Chapter 5.48)

Child care centers

Dependent adult care centers

Carnivals (MMC 05.08.100), Circuses (MMC 05.08.110)

Itinerant vendors (MMC 05.08.130)

Video rentals (to ensure separation of adult-type movies from others)

Lock and key businesses, including mobile services

Card rooms (MMC 05.08.060 - 05.08.090)

Pool rooms, billiard rooms, and family billiard parlors (MMC Chapter 5.36)

Massage establishments/massage technicians (MMC Chapter 5.44)

Adult entertainment businesses, including figure models (MMC Chapter 5.58)

Pawn shops (MMC Chapter 5.28)

Fortune tellers

Motion Picture Filming (MMC Chapter 5.52)

Please be advised that some types of licenses may require final approval by City Council.  Please reference the Municipal Code Section that pertains to your type of business, or call the Planning Department at (209)385-6858.

What special taxes and permits are required for my business?

Additional taxes or permit fees may be required if your business is located within a Business Improvement Area (MMC Chapter 3.44)  or conducts a particular type of business activity. Examples would include hotels and motels (MMC Chapter 3.08), taxicab companies and drivers (MMC Chapter 5.16), massage (MMC Chapter 5.44), cardrooms and cardroom dealers (MMC 05.08.060 - 05.08.090), dance halls (MMC Chapter 5.48), billiard rooms (MMC Chapter 5.36), solicitors (MMC 05.08.800 – 05.08.930), and mobile food vendors (MMC Chapter 5.54). When your application is filed with the City, it will be evaluated to determine if these or other such taxes or permit fees will apply to your business.

When do I need a business license?

Any time you are charging fees or accepting payment for goods or services, or conducting any type of business within the City limits of Merced, you are required to obtain a business license (MMC 05.04.040). 

All State-licensed contractors working on projects within the City of Merced are also required to obtain a business license prior to the issuance of the building permit with which they are involved, even if they are only contracted with that project for a very short amount of time (MMC 05.08.120)

When is a building permit required for a multi-family dwelling?

Before any construction begins on a multi-family dwelling, a building permit and other related permits must be obtained from the City of Merced.

Zoning and development standards apply to the construction of and additions to any multi-family dwelling. When planning any kind of construction check with the Planning Department to make sure the following standards are maintained,

  • Do not exceed the maximum number of units allowed on the lot.
  • Do not exceed the maximum number of structures allowed on the lot.
  • Maintain the required minimum distances from structure to property lines and structure to structure.
  • Provide the required number of parking spaces for tenants and guests.
  • Meet all landscaping requirements. 
Other factors will apply, so it is important to be as specific as possible when inquiring about proposed construction.  Some multi-family dwellings, such as apartments, are considered a high-impact use and might require a Conditional Use Permit, depending on their proximity to lower-impact uses.  Condominiums will require a Conditional Use Permit.  A copy of the City Of Merced Multi-Family design guidelines may be acquired at the Planning Department.


When is a building permit required for a single-family dwelling addition?

Before any construction begins on an addition to a single-family dwelling, a building permit and other related permits must be obtained from the City of Merced.

Zoning and development standards apply to the construction of and additions to any single-family dwelling. When planning any kind of construction check with the Planning Department to make sure the following standards are maintained,

  • Do not exceed the maximum number of units allowed on the lot.
  • Do not exceed the maximum number of structures allowed on the lot.
  • Maintain the required minimum distances from structure to property lines and structure to structure. 

    Other factors will apply, so it is important to be as specific as possible when inquiring about proposed construction.