If 2020 demonstrated anything, it was the necessity for area communities to have economic resiliency — that is, the ability to prevent, withstand and quickly recover from shocks to its economic base, whether that’s in response to a pandemic, natural disaster or stock market volatility.
In Zephyrhills, it’s something city planning director Todd Vande Berg and other city officials are actively balancing and preparing for, as the East Pasco municipality experiences a wave of growth and development, as well as transportation and infrastructure improvements.
Vande Berg provided an in-depth look at the city’s ongoing efforts during the annual Zephyrhills Economic Summit that was held this fall.
One key moving forward, he said, is reevaluating, updating and incorporating some “best practices” into the city’s comprehensive plan and land development code.
This includes taking a harder look at density bonuses and floor area ratios, as well as stream-lining permitting processes and broadening permitted uses, he said.
Prioritizing municipal investments in transportation (multi-modal, pedestrian-oriented, public transit) and infrastructure (water, sewer, communication networks), and recreation is important, too, he said.
Ripe for industrial manufacturing
The city is banking on diversifying its local economy and bringing high-wage jobs to town via a regional industrial/manufacturing buildout.
Local leaders believe this can be achieved through leveraging approximately 9.76 square miles (6,248 acres) of land in the southeast portion of the city around the State Road 39/Chancey Road corridor and Zephyrhills Municipal Airport. There is 3,000 acres to 4,000 acres available for potential industrial development.
Roughly a third of the entire property is within city limits and the remainder in unincorporated Pasco County — representing the largest aggregation of industrial lands in the county.
Within the area is 442 divisible acres of what’s known as the Zephyrhills Airport Industrial Park, a build-ready site equipped with water, sewer and electric utilities, and accessible to natural gas.
As industrial space along the Interstate 4 corridor begins to fill up along Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando, Zephyrhills “might be a next logical location for industrial manufacturing to come to,” Vande Berg said.
He reasoned the city’s vast land offerings is ripe to someday be home to a mix of light and heavy industrial and commercial uses — such as building spaces large enough to house semi-trailer truck bays.
The planning director explained it makes sense now more than ever to prepare for a long-range industrial plan, as Central Florida is following national trends of heavier investment in warehousing than retail construction.
The COVID-19 pandemic expedited this trend as more people and business are working and providing services remotely, in addition to the rise of Amazon and other e-commerce companies, Vande Berg said.
The city also enjoys north-south and east-west state and county road connections that support the long-term vision for industrial development, the planning director said. The city’s municipal airport, CSX main line rail access and close proximity to Port Tampa Bay and Central Florida markets are among its selling points.
“We’re pretty unique in that we have a pretty good roadway network being developed. That’s going to benefit the industrial corridor, to again make us very resilient, but we’ve got to continue to work on that,” he said.
The planning director acknowledged one challenge involves finding a way to widen the U.S. 301 corridor to four lanes from Fowler Avenue in Hillsborough County up through Zephyrhills. The roadway presently stretches four lanes from Port Tampa Bay to Fowler, but transitions to two lanes north through Pasco.
Vande Berg acknowledged that the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) hasn’t been on board with widening the road further north.
To resolve the impasse, the Pasco MPO needs to gather and collaborate with Hillsborough, Vande Berg said, “and really emphasize the importance of getting that segment of road, four lanes.”
He continued: “That four-lane corridor, I think, will pay off huge dividends for manufacturing and just overall betterment of our transportation network.”
Aside from stated transportation improvements to supplement an industrial corridor, Vande Berg also emphasized the importance of having a mechanism that provides workforce training opportunities, as people look to transition to manufacturing jobs.
“I feel like we need to look at identifying, and supporting and incentivizing all those things to provide for more of a diverse workforce,” he said.
Some next steps in the measured industrial corridor planning process include meeting with large industrial property owners; coordinating additional stakeholder meetings; having more discussions with industrial brokers; making airport and railroad improvements; and, continuing with various citywide master plan updates, Vande Berg said.
Growth already ramping up in Zephyrhills
While efforts continue to shape a future industrial hub, plenty is already happening in Zephyrhills in the way of new development, particularly residential construction.
A slew of new housing communities set to come online — such as Abbott Square, 700-plus units surrounding the new Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center off Simons Road; and Abbott Park, 500-plus units tucked behind the Zephyr Commons Publix Shopping Center, off Gall Boulevard.
Other notable homesites include the Link at Calusa Springs, north of Silverado Golf & Country Club; the Oaks at Pasco, southeast of Silverado Golf & Country Club; and Skybird Properties, off Alston Road near the municipal airport.
Various roadway improvements are paving way for new commercial development, too.
Most notable is the $2.3 million state-funded U.S. 301/Pretty Pond Road intersection project, now under construction.
The project calls for new traffic signals on U.S. 301 at Pretty Pond and at Medical Arts Court/ Townview Avenue, along with other median and roadway improvements.
The addition of signalized intersections at these locations is designed to make it easier to move about the area, and to be an economic driver for the northeast and northwest corners of Pretty Pond.
Once construction is complete, the area is poised to land Chick-fil-A and Chipotle chain restaurants, and other businesses.
Vande Berg joked he frequently gets asked about when Chick-fil-A is coming aboard — and said the popular franchise was waiting until the intersection project received the OK to move forward.
“I’m happy to share that they’re still on board,” the city official said.
He also mentioned enhancements coming to a 1.31-mile stretch on County Road 54, east of U.S. 301, east to 23rd Street.
The city is splitting the cost of the $6.5 million project with Pasco County, which will include the addition of intersection turn lanes; a traffic signal at 23rd Street; and multi-use paths and trails on the north and south sides of the road, among other improvements.
The project is addressing one of the city’s “bigger areas of need” to improve traffic capacity along a busy and sometimes dangerous roadway, Vande Berg said.
Elsewhere, the planning director highlighted a slew of other forthcoming projects and goals, further giving a look inside the booming activity in the city:
- Mixed-use properties along the Zephyr Commons gateway
- New Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic off Eiland Boulevard
- Upgrades to Hercules Park, at U.S. 301 and County Road 54, adjacent to Zephyrhills High and Woodlands Elementary schools.
- Implementation of form-based building codes from North Avenue to C Avenue, between Sixth Street and Seventh Street
- Efforts to have more designated complete streets throughout the city, designed to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. (This may include adding sidewalks, bike lanes ,or wide paved shoulders; special bus lanes; comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities; median islands, accessible pedestrian signals; curb extensions; narrower travel lanes; roundabouts and so on.)
Published December 09, 2020