Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Business

Planned economic engine in central Pasco stalls with neighbors

WESLEY CHAPEL — Kartik Goyani of Metro Development has the task of selling the planned connected city corridor to future employers.

He has pitched the still mostly rural area of Wesley Chapel to more than 100 companies, including a hospital, touting the benefits of locating in the 7,800 acres that will be the nation's first smart gigabit community built from the ground up.

The potential for jobs to materialize before rooftops is very real, said Pat Gassaway of Heidt Design and Associates, the consultant helping to plan the massive connected city corridor.

"This is the biggest economic engine in Pasco County for the next 50 years,'' Gassaway predicted.

But what's also very real is that the sales pitch to current residents has been far from a success.

"Nobody here asked for this,'' said Joseph Bridwell of Baylor Lane.

It was a recurring theme at the fifth and final community meeting last week among Metro, Heidt, Pasco County and area residents. More than 90 people attended the session at Wesley Chapel Elementary School.

Residents asked questions about the forced taking of their land, crime, business development, congestion and flooding they fear will accompany the planning area, which could include 37,000 homes built over the next 50 years on land bordered by Interstate 75, Curley and Overpass roads, and State Road 52.

"What makes you think there won't be 37,000 homes with people driving to Tampa?'' asked Jennifer McCarthy of Kenton Road. "Get the jobs here first. We don't need more retail.''

Bridwell's wife, Melanie, questioned the wisdom of including existing rural homesteads in neighborhoods with no deed restrictions within a planning area poised for high-end development.

"I don't get it,'' she said. "What are you going to do? Clean up the whole area?''

The pushback came, in part, because the planners drew up big ideas for land they don't control. Though much of the land is targeted for large-scale development, including more than 6,000 homes in Metro's Epperson and Mirada projects, the planning area encompasses approximately 250 property owners. Some residents particularly disliked Heidt's idea of putting public parks on their privately owned land.

The connected city corridor — a 10-year state pilot program to expedite government approval for developments promoting job creation, alternative transportation, sprawl limits or environmental protections — still must be approved by Pasco County commissioners.

In advance of that decision, residents started their own Facebook page — PCCWatch — and Metro Development, a day after the meeting, released its own statement promising "to do more to communicate with this group, and we are in the process of creating more channels for residents to ask questions. We want all the residents living near the Connected City area to know that we are listening, that their concerns will be taken into consideration, and that we will work to get them information and answers quickly."

There was one emerging question that did not get an answer at the community meeting.

"I just want to know,'' said John Morris, who moved to McKendree Road 20 years ago to escape Hillsborough County's congestion, "when you're going to start sending out (land purchase) offers.''

He said he and his wife, Alyce, plan to move again.

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