Connected city gets preliminary okay in Pasco

Published Nov. 16, 2016

DADE CITY — The planned connected-city corridor — a 7,800-acre smart gigabit community projected to house 96,000 people, produce 65,000 jobs and offer features ranging from a 7.5-acre man-made lagoon to miles of alternative transportation — has cleared preliminary approvals with Pasco County.

The Development Review Committee — county administrators and representatives of Pasco's school district and Economic Development Council — last week authorized the financial, transportation, utility and governing plans for the massive district in Wesley Chapel and eastern Pasco.

The County Commission will now consider the concept at a series of workshops and public hearings scheduled to begin next month and conclude in March 2017.

The connected-city corridor, a state-authorized pilot program, swaps expedited local government approvals for job creation and other benefits. Its approximate borders are Interstate 75 on the east, Curley Road on the west, State Road 52 on the north and Overpass Road on the south.

Metro Development Corp. is the driving force behind the idea, and it owns about a third of the land in the corridor, including four housing and commercial developments: Epperson Ranch South, Epco Ranch North, Ashley Grove and Mirada.

At a Nov. 10 public hearing, questions from the DRC and the public concerned the transportation network, including its implications for other roads in the county's long-range plan, and the developments' impact on nearby property.

Businessman Randy Maggard, chairman of the Pasco Republican Party and owner of land east of the corridor, said he was concerned about economic equality for other landowners. He pointed to published comments from Metro attorney Joel Tew, who earlier told the Tampa Bay Times "We are getting some objections from some competitors who think we are getting too sweet a deal. … If it's that good a deal, opt in. And, if it's also that good a deal and you can't join us, then why don't you invent a better mouse trap and get your (own) deal?''

"That's a concern,'' said Maggard. "That tells me the best lawyer wins, and I'm not sure that's how this is supposed to be.''

"I think it's a level playing field. I think it's more than a level playing field,'' Tew told the DRC.

Under the plan, Metro and other land owners opting in to the corridor will receive additional transportation fee credits from the county for building their primary roads if they also set aside approximately 72 acres of so-called site-ready employment centers with necessary infrastructure in place and government permits in hand.

"This is very different than what we've ever done before,'' said Ernie Monaco, Pasco's assistant planning and development administrator.

The additional fee credits potentially will leave the county's long-term plan for roads outside the corridor with a $43 million shortfall.

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But public attention focused on what roads would be built within the corridor, specifically the plan to turn Kenton Road from a two-lane dirt road into a multi-lane paved boulevard. It would serve as a third north-south route in the corridor between McKendree and Curley roads.

Jennifer McCarthy repeated her past objection that the expanded road could ruin the rural lifestyle of nearby homeowners who, like her, live on 5- and 10-acre tracts.

"It essentially negated the purpose (for why) we're there,'' agreed her neighbor Todd Stephenson.

He asked the county to consider moving the planned route to the east, away from existing home sites. The current plan calls for Kenton Road to be widened sometime after 2030.

Owners of other, larger tracts on Kenton Road, however, favored the coming development. Christopher Joy owns nearly 150 acres on Kenton Road and noted the road isn't walkable or served by school buses, and the neighborhood lacks fiber optic cable for Internet service.

"It is beautiful. It's like a park, but times are changing,'' said Jimmy Aprile of Tampa who owns land at Kenton and Elam roads. "We have to get out of the horse-and-buggy stage and get into the connected city.''