Pasco County is the epicenter for a 10-year state-approved pilot program to create a “connected city” corridor of master-planned communities — built from the ground up with technology innovations.
State lawmakers carved out about 7,800 acres in central and eastern Pasco as a special development district that will foster residential and commercial projects.
The district’s development plans will be locally controlled, with a minimum of state or regional oversight.
The anticipation is that the district during the 10-year pilot program, and another 40 years of build-out, will be a national model for how to spark job creation, reduce urban sprawl, enhance environmental protection, provide alternative transportation, and interconnect neighborhoods through cutting edge technology.
At build-out, the district could have 96,000 employees, and about 37,000 homes and apartments.
But, some residents within the district are pushing back.
They prefer “rural enclaves” to the more urban development of a connected city.
“At best it’s the same sprawl most of us moved out here to escape,” said Tim Dolan, who lives within the district. “What’s gone is gone for good.”
Dolan spoke at a Sept. 15 public hearing in Dade City where the Development Review Committee considered approval of a land use amendment establishing an overlay district for the connected city.
The borders are Interstate 75, State Road 52, Overpass Road and Curley Road.
Committee members postponed a vote on the amendment until Oct. 13.
In addition to the land use amendment, approval is also needed for transportation, financial and utilities plans.
The Pasco County Commission has the final word.
At the hearing, committee members listened to presentations from county staff members, and participated in a tele-conference with Ken Hays, president of the Enterprise Center of Chattanooga.
Hays discussed that city’s experience as the first gigabit city in the nation, and technology’s role in reviving its downtown.
Pasco County officials are looking to the connected city corridor as a major economic driver for the county, and potentially for the 4.5 million residents of the Tampa Bay area.
It could be a northern gateway for Tampa Bay, and a second alternative to the shops, restaurants and jobs being generated in Wiregrass Ranch and Wesley Chapel, said Richard Gehring, Pasco County’s strategic policy administrator.
To push projects along, the county would boost mobility fee credits to developers willing to create about 272 acres of “service-ready” land, within 660 feet of a constructed road. The goal is job creation and economic development that is innovative and technology driven.
An estimated 7.2 million square-feet could be generated for job creation, Gehring said.
That is about half the size of Westshore, which has about 13 million square feet of office space and about 93,000 employees.
“This could be a second Westshore,” he said.
Dirt within the connected city corridor already is flying.
Metro Development Group is partnering with Heidt Design and the county to shepherd initial development projects from vision to building permits.
Among Metro’s initial projects are a mixed-use community at Epperson Ranch with about 2,000 homes, and another at Cannon Ranch, known as Mirada, that will have about 4,000 homes.
Metro’s newest communities, including Union Park, Waterleaf and Sereno, feature UltraFi, a broadband system capable of delivering gigabit-fast Internet connections.
But, a conceptual map by Heidt Design that sketched what might happen in the connected city corridor within the next 40 to 50 years raised concerns among some residents at a neighborhood meeting.
“My property was going to be a parking lot in 50 years,” said Jennifer McCarthy.
Tonya Riddlesworth doesn’t want to be crowded out by urban development.
“We want to keep our neighborhood as quiet and rural as possible,” she said.
Representatives of Metro Development Group emphasized the map was visionary and long-range, not a true representation of any building plans.
Others at the meeting understood that and expressed support for connected city, said Kartik Goyani, vice president of operations with Metro Development Group.
One concern about the Epperson Ranch project, raised by an attorney representing residents of Palm Cove of Wesley Chapel, appears resolved.
Construction is underway on the Crystal Lagoon, a 7-acre man-made lake with about 16 million gallons of crystal blue water. The lagoon will be the first in North America.
But, the lagoon’s initial need for massive amounts of water has some Palm Cove residents worried about sinkholes on their properties.
It is unlikely that would happen, said Goyani. But, Metro has agreed not to pump well water for the lagoon even though permits were approved by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Instead, water will be purchased from the county’s existing resources.
“It costs us more to do that, but we think it’s the responsible thing to do,” Goyani said.
Published October 5, 2016