DOVER — A South Florida developer wants to transform about 3,000 acres of former phosphate mine land in Dover into a giant alternative energy industrial park that would house wind turbines, solar panels, a waste-to-energy plant and more.
But before the project can move forward, Imperium Companies needs county commissioners to approve a change to the county's comprehensive plan that would allow for an "energy industrial park."
Past attempts to develop the land for residential uses have failed, but the landowners' attorney, Carter McCain, thinks they'll be successful this time because of the green industry plans, which governments — including Hillsborough County — have made it clear they want.
However, Hillsborough leaders want to group green industries along the Interstate 4 corridor. This park would be south of State Road 60, between Dover and Turkey Creek roads. Imperium's president, Kyle Mowitz, defended the parcel choice, saying his company deliberately selected it for its size and proximity to roads, rail and natural gas. He could not find that along I-4.
"I think we will act as a catalyst for that project, but we cannot use the I-4 corridor," he said in a phone interview.
Another hurdle the developer faces is the land's location. It sits just outside the county's urban service area. That means there's no water or sewage hookups, which McCain said is necessary for a project of this scale.
The comprehensive plan amendment would fix that by incorporating the parcel into the area, but the Hillsborough County Planning Commission's staff said they want Imperium to prove why it's necessary to build outside the area, which was designed to keep development inside an urban core.
"It has a lot of merit, but there are also a lot of concerns," said county planner Krista Kelly. "The biggest hurdle is proving it needs to be outside the urban service area."
Nearby resident and community activist George Niemann has opposed past residential development plans for that space, but this time he said the plans have merit.
"I don't think citizens are going to oppose alternative energy," he said.
However, he said he's concerned about traffic, unsightly buildings and the use of the land for retail and commercial development.
The amendment's wording requires that at least 40 percent of the land be used for green industry. Up to 40 percent could be used for supporting uses (such as an alternative energy research facility), and 20 percent could be used for retail and commercial development.
Imperium is required to build two alternative energy facilities before anything else, and Mowitz said retail buildings, restaurants and a hotel — which would come later — will be necessary to support visitors. He expects the park will draw people from around the world because of its uniqueness. The company will give tours, he said.
"This will be the Silicon Valley of alternative energy," McCain said. "This is really a game-changer. We anticipate people will come here, see how it works and take it back to their area."
Imperium and McCain have been working on the park's plans for about nine months, and they're in a hurry. Imperium needs to break ground before the end of 2010 to receive federal and state incentives meant to encourage green energy, Mowitz said.
He hopes to start construction in December. Construction on four different alternative-energy facilities would take about 2 1/2 years, he said.
Though plans are still in the works, Mowitz said they'll construct about 100 acres of solar panels and wind turbines. He plans to use about 100 acres for a waste-to-energy plant and between 800 to 1,500 acres for fish ponds that would contain algae used to produce biodiesel.
The waste-to-energy plant would use garbage normally sent to landfills, as well as agricultural waste. Imperium hasn't talked with Tampa Electric yet, but Mowitz said he plans to sell the energy they produce on-site. He also hopes to build a biodiesel station to fuel county vehicles.
The Planning Commission staff will make a recommendation to county commissioners, who have the final say. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.