Campus Releases Updated Plans for Physical Layout, Character, Sustainability Goals, Environmental Impacts of Full Development

MERCED - The University of California, Merced today (Nov. 7) released two major planning documents that provide the most detailed preview to date of the proposed layout, character and sustainability objectives for the campus, as well as environmental impacts of its fully developed campus and associated university community.

The publication of the 2009 Draft Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) and a corresponding Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) is the latest step in the process of developing a model 21st century campus and securing regulatory authorization for construction of the campus and university community, a contiguous development of housing and commercial services supporting the campus.

Both documents are updates of earlier reports, necessitated by the university's decision, announced in October 2007, to modify the size and configuration of its planned development to reduce impacts on vernal pool wetlands, achieve greater land-use efficiency and accommodate future needs of the planned 25,000-student campus.

"We are extremely pleased to provide this fresh and more comprehensive look at the type of campus and community we intend to build over the next 20 to 30 years," said Steve Kang, UC Merced chancellor. "The thoughtfully revised layout makes excellent use of space and natural features of the campus topography while reducing impacts on wetlands by about one-third, compared with the previous plan. We believe it will create a rich, attractive, highly interactive learning environment for our students and a welcoming atmosphere for all who visit."

Kang said the new plans also reinforce UC Merced's stated objective of setting new standards for environmental stewardship and sustainability.

"UC Merced has already earned recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Institute of Architects for the design and construction of facilities that make wise and efficient use of water, energy, light, building materials and other resources. The progressive planning framework, policies and processes reflected in these documents will accelerate that trend during the remaining phases of development."

LRDP presents form, character, quality of planned campus at full development

The 2009 Draft Campus LRDP revises the footprint and expands upon the sustainable planning principles of the original LRDP published in 2002, three years before the campus officially opened. The revisions incorporate the input of students, faculty, staff, community members and local elected officials solicited through an extensive series of planning workshops held over the past academic year.

The plan addresses not only the form and character of future development but also establishes ambitious new objectives for sustainability and environmental stewardship. The university believes the plan can serve as a model of sustainable, higher-density development for the region, with its projected rapid population growth and environmental challenges.

The draft LRDP describes a campus built around a 200-acre "academic core" that includes classrooms, laboratories, administration, research and development and related activities. The core will be developed in four parts - the Gateway District (the primary campus entrance and "public face" of the campus), the North Campus (the current campus, which will be largely complete by 2012), the Central West Campus (phase 2) and the Central East Campus (phases 3 and 4).

Embracing the academic core to the north, northwest and northeast will be four student neighborhoods built on 225 acres. These areas are commonly served by a major open space and recreation area formed by the North and South Bowls. Each neighborhood will house about 2,000 to 3,000 students and will be served by a defined central open space flanked by dining, recreation and other student services and support.

Two other neighborhoods will be housed along north-south Main Streets connecting through the academic core to the adjacent town center of the community. These will be linear mixed-use districts with housing above student services, dining, recreation and other street-activating uses. Housing options will include traditional residence halls and apartments in various density configurations. The goal is to accommodate approximately half of the UC Merced student population on campus.

The balance of the 815-acre campus complex will be allocated to athletics and recreation, passive and active open space, campus services and parking.

The entire campus will be interconnected through a series of broad sidewalks, bike paths, limited-access streets and transit options for convenience and ease of navigation. The layout will make it possible to walk from the academic core to most other locations on campus within 10 minutes. Streets will be lined with trees for shade and aesthetic and environmental value.

"One of the most intriguing aspects of the plan is how its physical form and pattern of development distinguishes itself from traditional campus models," said Thomas E. Lollini, FAIA, associate vice chancellor for design and construction. "While located next to an expansive natural landscape, its form and density are urban in character, with interior park spaces formed by the natural topography and linked by canals meandering through the grid to create variety and interest."

Lollini said planned densities for the future campus and community are considerably higher than typical in the Central Valley, allowing for a more accessible campus by foot or bicycle, minimizing environmental impacts and modeling future growth in a region projected to see its population increase very rapidly, while also conserving its rich agricultural resources.

The revised LRDP also sets new standards for sustainability and environmental stewardship by raising the bar on UC Merced's previously stated goal of achieving LEED Silver certification for all buildings on campus. (LEED, or "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design," is a program of the U.S. Green Building Council that rates structures on various aspects of environmental performance.)

"By early next year we will have achieved LEED Gold ratings on six of our first nine projects," said Lollini. "This accomplishment has led us to set our sights on a minimum of LEED Gold for future projects."

No other university in the country has established an equivalent goal, Lollini said.

In addition, the LRDP adds a new "triple-net-zero" goal for the university: to consume no offsite or nonrenewable energy, to produce no net carbon emissions, and to produce no landfill waste by 2020. The campus also commits itself to minimizing water consumption and exploring the feasibility of achieving water neutrality.

The LRDP may be found at http://lrdp.ucmerced.edu.

EIS/EIR addresses wetlands impacts, mitigation measures

The Draft EIS/EIR examines the environmental effects of full development and notes the reduced impacts the revised footprint will have on seasonal wetlands found within the 815-acre campus and the northern and southern portions of the proposed university community. It specifies that roughly 85 acres of wetlands will be affected by the combined development, compared with approximately 121 acres in the previous plan.

The improvements are the result of the university's decision, announced in 2007, to reduce the size of its fully developed campus, from an originally proposed 910 acres to 815 acres, and of the university community, from 2,115 to 1,951 acres. The revised layout also reduces wetlands impacts by repositioning portions of the future campus and university community further south and east of their originally planned locations. The footprint shift is completely accumulated within the holdings of the University Community Land Company, LLC (UCLC).

The university said it developed the revised footprint last year following consultations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which have jurisdiction over wetlands development under the U.S. Clean Water Act, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game. The County of Merced, the City of Merced, agricultural representatives and environmental groups, including the California Endangered Species and Habitat Alliance, were also key contributors to the process.

Development of the 85 acres of wetlands will be fully offset by mitigation measures to ensure "no net loss" of wetlands values and functions, as required under the Clean Water Act. Approximately 2,318 acres of in-kind wetland habitat will be set aside for permanent preservation, a ratio of 30 acres preserved for every acre of wetlands developed. In addition, the university in cooperation with the state has set aside 26,000 acres of grasslands for permanent conservation.

USACE must issue development permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act before the next phase of campus construction can begin. In March 2008, the university and the UCLC jointly submitted a permit application for full development of the campus and the northern portion of the university community, based on the revised footprint. UCLC, a not-for-profit organization composed of the University of California and the Virginia Smith Trust, owns the land to be developed into the northern portion of the university community.

The northern portion of the university community, totaling 833 acres directly south of the campus, is included in the current Section 404 permit application for the campus. The southern portion of the university community, consisting of 1,118 acres directly south of the northern portion, is privately owned and is not part of the current application. UC Merced and UCLC are working cooperatively with the owners of the southern portion of the community to ensure coordinated and compatible development consistent with Merced County's University Community Plan (UCP), which will need to be revised.

Though separate from the campus' planning process, the revised UCP will require an amendment to Merced County's General Plan. The university has proactively engaged the County to ensure that the revisions to the UCP comply with the principles prescribed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors in 2004 when they approved the original UCP. Furthermore, the County will prepare a separate EIR for the revised UCP that is scheduled to be released for public comment next year.

The Draft EIS/EIR may be found at http://lrdp.ucmerced.edu/.

Public comment on the Draft EIS/EIR is an integral part of the permitting process. The comment period starts today and will run through January 5, 2009. USACE and UC Merced will host a joint public hearing December 2, 2008 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the California Room on the UC Merced campus at 5200 North Lake Road. The general public is invited to attend.

Members of the public will have several methods at the meeting by which they can present their views: through interaction with experts, by recording their comments with a court reporter or by submitting their comments in writing. They can also address comments to: UCMerced@usace.army.mil.

For more information about the University of California, Merced visit: www.ucmerced.edu.

To view new artistic renderings of future campus development click here.

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