A champagne toast and tethered hot-air balloon rides heralded the groundbreaking for a 7-acre manmade Crystal Lagoon that — when finished — will be large enough for six football fields, end to end.
In the background, construction workers stirred dust and hammered nails into model homes for the first master-planned community in Epperson Ranch, along the Connected City corridor. The Crystal Lagoon is the splashy jewel at the center of Epperson.
Connected City, if successful, could become Pasco’s economic jewel.
Pasco County commissioners voted unanimously on Feb. 7 to approve the framework to establish the Connected City, as a state-approved 10-year pilot program to foster a technology-based “city of the future.”
At its 50-year build out, the Connected City is expected to have more than 96,000 residents within multiple neighborhoods; 37,000 homes and apartments; as many as 7.2 million square feet of employment facilities; and, a role-model reputation for technology innovation.
But, for now, all eyes are on Epperson and the Crystal Lagoon in northeastern Pasco, at Curley and Overpass roads. The mammoth swimming pool, with clear blue, see-through waters, is a global phenomenon, with locations in Chile and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Pasco’s Crystal Lagoon will be the first in the nation.
“It’s like swimming in a bottle of Zephyrhills water,” said Greg Singleton, president of Metro Development Group. “It’s so incredibly clear.”
It took more than two years of planning, workshops and negotiations to reach the groundbreaking at Epperson on Feb. 2, followed by the Connected City vote nearly a week later.
“It was worth the time. I say congratulations to everybody,” said Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore. “I think we’ll see great things for our neighborhoods. All eyes are going to be upon us now. People will be coming to Pasco County, to follow suit.”
State lawmakers carved out about 7,800 acres in northeastern Pasco, in 2015, for a special development district. The boundaries are Interstate 75, State Road 52, and Curley and Overpass roads.
State law, and now county approval, set in motion a 10-year pilot program to encourage mixed-use development projects and master-planned communities built from the ground up with cutting edge technology.
“At the end of the day, I feel it’s the right thing for the county,” said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells. “It comes down to job creation for me.”
Still, the excitement level created by Connected City isn’t shared by everyone.
Resident Jennifer McCarthy has been a frequent critic of Connected City at prior meetings. She and her husband, Chris McCarthy, attended the final hearing on Feb. 2, but neither spoke during public comment.
They both remain worried about property rights of residents who have lived in the area for decades. Increased traffic is another issue, especially on Kenton Road where they live.
They also aren’t convinced that the area can become another technology-heavy Silicon Valley.
“This isn’t California,” said Jennifer McCarthy.
Resident Nancy Hazelwood worries about preserving the rural character of the area.
She objected when county commissioners voted to carve out a portion of the Villages of Pasadena Hills, and to add it into Connected City boundaries.
County commissioners said that made sense because the state-drawn boundaries overlapped into one of the Villages’ neighborhoods.
It was the third time, Hazelwood said, that the county gave up rural land to accommodate urban development.
“You keep taking things from what we were given at one time,” she said.
Change is coming.
Metro Development Group anticipates completion of the lagoon in 2017, with the opening of model homes in late 2017 or early 2018.
Metro Development Group is working in a public-private partnership with Pasco County on the initial development within Connected City. The development company controls about 35 percent of the targeted area.
A second community – known as Mirada – is planned by Metro Development Group, along with a second Crystal Lagoon of more than 10 acres.
In return for meeting more than 50 development criteria, the county is offering mobility fee credits and a faster-than-usual review process to Connected City projects.
Technology is the premier feature in what is expected to entice high-paying jobs to Pasco.
The vision is for the entire area to become a northern gateway into the Tampa Bay region, with links to commerce and education centers to the south, including the research-oriented University of South Florida.
“I am doing everything I can to hook them up with tech companies,” said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
Published February 15, 2017