Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Business

Tampa General, Florida Hospital join connected city wellness plan

The proposed connected city smart gigabit community in Wesley Chapel — still awaiting Pasco County Commission approvals — isn't waiting on private-sector partners.

Florida Hospital and Tampa General Hospital are signed up to be part of a wellness district within the proposed 7,800-acre planning area that would include a hospital, research center and other health care facilities, Metro Development Group announced Tuesday.

And Saint Leo University said it will be opening an education center within the Epperson Ranch portion of the connected city corridor to offer services and classes, both online and on-site, for undergraduate and graduate students. The university already operates 40 such centers in seven states.

The corridor, designated by the state as a 10-year pilot program, swaps expedited local reviews in exchange for promised job creation, alternative transportation and other innovations. Its most high-profile amenity is a 6-acre Crystal Lagoon that is under construction west of Curley Road in Wesley Chapel. A second lagoon also is planned.

The corridor stretches from just north of State Road 52 southward to Overpass Road and is bordered by Interstate 75 on the west and Curley Road on the east. Much of the land is targeted for development, including Metro Development's Epperson and Mirada projects, totaling more than 6,000 homes. The corridor is envisioned to have a 50-year build-out that would bring 96,000 people to 37,000 residential units.

Metro said the wellness campus will offer telemedicine and expanded at-home health options to patients, and the ability for medical professionals to collaborate internationally. The campus will begin at the Epperson Town Center at Curley and Overpass roads, said Kartik Goyani, Metro Development Group's vice president of operations.

The announcement came the same day Metro representatives met with Pasco commissioners in Dade City in a workshop on the connected city plan. The commission is scheduled to consider the connected city's land-use, financing, governance and other proposals at public hearings on Jan. 24.

The project is not without its critics. Local residents in the largely rural area have expressed concerns about sprawl and future traffic. Others are critical of the proposed transportation fee credits being afforded Metro in exchange for preparing employment center sites. The additional fee credits could leave a $43 million shortfall in the county's long-term transportation plan for roads outside the corridor.

In acknowledgement of some of the criticisms, Metro and commissioners agreed Tuesday to kill the connected city's self governance. A proposed nine-member management committee will be scrapped, and future land-use recommendations will remain under the purview of the county's Development Review Committee.

Likewise, commissioners and Metro said land for the future job-creation sites will include deed restrictions mandating that the acres be used for employment centers. The restrictions could only be amended by a supermajority vote of the commission.

The stipulation is intended to ease concerns that landowners could seek transportation fee credits but eventually use the land for residential development.

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