By Kyle LoJacono
A single vote will help move Wiregrass Ranch from a cattle farm to a center of education, business and fun.
The Pasco County Commission voted unanimously Sept. 6 to approve a plan for the development of that section of Wesley Chapel.
The plan includes clearing way for the new Wesley Chapel Medical Center, Pasco-Hernando Community Hospital’s (PHCC) Wiregrass Campus and a future recreation complex. With those additions, the plan also calls for a reduction in the number of potential homes that can be built in the area by 1,205.
The details of the plan include:
Planning for a 300,000-square-foot attractions and recreation facility.
Adding an 18-hole golf course.
Officially setting aside enough land for the new $45 million PHCC campus that can accommodate 1,100 students on Mansfield Boulevard near Wiregrass Ranch High.
Allocating 200,000-square-feet needed for the Wesley Chapel Medical Center that will begin construction later this year about one half-mile north of SR 56 on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Increasing the number of hotel rooms from 120 to 480 in the area.
Pasco Commission chairwoman and Pasco tourism council chairwoman Pat Mulieri sees the benefit of adding recreation that will bring people from other counties or states.
“The recreation center would be a big boost for the economy,” Mulieri said. “A prime example is the lacrosse tournament we have in January near Saddlebrook. It brings in more than $2 million to our economy. Pizza places, hotels and stores are jumping and the registers are all ringing. Imagine having a facility that has weekly tournaments, perhaps professional ice hockey practice, and local teams.”
“The hospital and PHCC will create a synergy that will bring more prosperity to the area and contribute positively to the quality of life in Wesley Chapel,” Mulieri continued. “The hospital and college will bring additional professionals to the area and new residents can absorb some of the housing surplus.”
Mulieri was a professor at PHCC for more than 20 years and is happy to see the expansion of education.
“Having a diverse educational environment contributes to economic development and will be a plus when recruiting new businesses to Pasco,” Mulieri said. “It will help us realize our goal; Pasco bringing opportunities home.”
The reduction of potential homes is to make room for increased development of more businesses. To compensate for the loss of residential development, the plan approved rezoning of the area around the future extension of SR 56 from where it stops at Meadow Pointe Boulevard east to Morris Bridge Road. That project will likely be paid for by developers, not the county.
The rezoning will allow more than 2,000 homes to be built on the 825.5 acres of land next to the future extension. Part of that area would be the new River Landing development, which will have about 1,200 homes, 400 multifamily homes and 300 townhouses.
Before the rezoning, the land was for agricultural purposes.
On the recreation side, the “attractions and recreation facility” could be many things, according to Eric Keaton, Pasco tourism manager.
“That land is currently available for private developers who can approach the county to build any recreational facility from hockey to racquetball or shuffleboard,” Keaton said.
Keaton said there is county land near Saddlebrook that will be used for a tennis or other relational facility. He said there is a chance the county will swap that land with the area around SR 56 and open up the property near Saddlebrook for private developers.
The 5,000-acre Wiregrass Ranch is owned by the Porter family. The Porters first bought 14,000 acres of land that stretched from New River down into Hillsborough County in 1941. Don Porter’s father, James, moved his family to the land in 1946.
Porter said his family still has a ranch that raises cattle and grows oranges in the Wiregrass area. He said there was a time when he envisioned an area with schools, shopping centers, recreation and a hospital decades ago. The commissioner’s vote has helped that vision has come true.
“There’s been a lot of progress and that’s needed,” Porter said. “I’m glad I’ve been able to see the area build up into what it is today.”