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Pasco commission plugs in connected city corridor in Wesley Chapel

The Pasco Commission this week authorized development of the nation's first ultrafast gigabit community to be built from the ground up. Metro Development Group's 2,000-home Epperson development is the first project within the connected city corridor in Wesley Chapel. Last week, Metro held a ground-breakding ceremony for its Crystal Lagoon amenity within Epperson. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times]
The Pasco Commission this week authorized development of the nation's first ultrafast gigabit community to be built from the ground up. Metro Development Group's 2,000-home Epperson development is the first project within the connected city corridor in Wesley Chapel. Last week, Metro held a ground-breakding ceremony for its Crystal Lagoon amenity within Epperson. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Feb. 8, 2017

DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners finally turned on the juice for the connected city corridor this week, approving a series of ordinances to set in motion the nation's first gigabit community to be built from the ground up.

The unanimous votes almost were anti- climatic after nearly 18 months of public scrutiny in which developers agreed to: scrub a planned management committee that would have bypassed some county oversight on land-use decisions; contribute $7.2 million toward building Highlands Boulevard, a road outside the development; cap the sale price of land designated for employment centers to encourage economic development, and scrap initial plans to build parks on what is now privately owned land.

The concessions helped quiet earlier public objections in which developers were characterized as heavy-handed land grabbers getting too good of a deal on transportation fees while controlling a self-serving management committee that would bypass the county's Development Review Committee.

Only one person spoke during the public hearings, Nancy Hazelwood of Blanton, who objected to the connected city corridor being allowed to slice the eastern edge off a designated rural area in central Pasco.

"We aren't really gaining anything back from this,'' Hazelwood said about shrinking the rural land area.

Commissioners, however, gushed over the possibilities of Metro Development Group and other landowners turning 7,800 acres of largely undeveloped land in Wesley Chapel and east Pasco into a community with 96,000 people, 66,000 jobs and 37,000 homes if the 50-year projections hold true. Metro owns 35 percent of the land in the corridor and plans thousands of homes in its four developments.

Commissioner Mike Wells Jr., whose father served on the commission in the late 1980s when it rezoned Seven Springs ranch land into what is now Trinity, recalled the uncertainly surrounding that development when it was first proposed. "And look what Trinity is today," he said.

"I feel it is the right thing for the county, and it comes down to job creation for me,'' Wells Jr. said of the connected city plan.

"Obviously, today, I think you realize Pasco County made history. What you see is the first connected city in the nation,'' echoed commission Chairman Mike Moore.

The corridor, a planning district rather than an actual municipal government, is bordered approximately by Interstate 75 on the west, State Road 52 on the north, Curley Road on the east and Overpass Road on the south. Metro already is developing the 2,000-home Epperson development, at Curley and Overpass roads, which will be home to the first Crystal Lagoon in the United States.

While the lagoon has drawn significant attention as a centerpiece amenity, it is the ultrafast Internet speed within the gigabit community that is expected to be the job generator. Already, Tampa General Hospital, Florida Hospital and Saint Leo University have signed on as partners on medical and education centers planned for the town center area, east of the 7.5-acre lagoon.

"We can start our own high-tech corridor'' between the University of South Florida and the University of Florida, said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey. Turning to Commissioner Ron Oakley, she said, "I'm jealous this is in your district.''

Though commissioners clearly were convinced, Ernie Monaco, Pasco's assistant planning and development administrator, touted the project's attributes via a series of questions to the commission:

What kind of future do we want Pasco County to have? Do we want to embrace driverless vehicles? Do we want to upgrade the housing? Do we want to improve our schools? Do we want to integrate the gigabit technology into our schools? What do businesses really want, and what do we want? Do we want our kids basically to stay in Pasco County?

Minutes later, Oakley provided a succinct answer.

"I think it's going to turn out to be one of the greatest things we've done in Pasco County,'' he said.

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