NEW PORT RICHEY — The plan for a central Pasco community surrounding a downtown of its own has been on the books for more than two decades but it wasn’t until this week that Pasco County commissioners approved the land use change that will finally make the Connerton downtown possible.
In the unanimous commission approval Tuesday, commissioners officially changed the land use from agricultural to master plan for more than 1,000 acres which will include Connerton Villages 3 and 4 as well as the long-awaited community downtown of a minimum 40 acres.
The development plan includes 2,160 residential units comprised of 1,860 single family homes and another 300 attached single family homes. Residential density in the downtown area will have to meet a minimum of six units per acre and could include multi-story mixed-use buildings combining both residential and commercial or office uses.
The plan also includes 150,000 square-feet of retail, 150,000 square-feet of office, a 765-student charter school, and an 80-acre district park. A library/fire station and a civic park and gathering area are also in the plans. Pathways and trails will wind throughout the development.
The applicant, Lennar Homes, Inc., says the two new Connerton villages will “create a better connected community that plans for and creates mobility options that are alternatives to traditional vehicles,” according to the commission agenda packet.
Connerton once billed itself as a new town development with a walkable downtown amid trails, pocket parks, wetlands and woods abutting a 3,000-acre state preserve. The development is east of U.S. 41, south of State Road 52 and north of Ehren Cutoff on what was the Conner family’s 8,000-acre ranch. In the planning stages since the late 1990s, the project kicked off in 2004.
“I’m excited,” County Commissioner Mike Moore said of the project. “I think the residents of Connerton are going to be excited.”
Maryann Bishop who lives on Hale Road spoke against the project saying that she wanted Land O’Lakes to remain a special place and that the time has come for the County Commission to require more from developers including more open space to preserve nature. “Why are the developers more important than the residents,” she said.
Bishop said that the county’s motto “open spaces, vibrant places” was becoming less of a guiding principle as the county’s rampant growth continues. “I don’t know if you forgot it or you never really meant it,” she said.
Another nearby resident who lives off Ehren Cutoff repeated his concerns about the traffic on his road as well as the noise pollution the community would create in the adjacent rural communities. “I was told that I would not be disturbed by downtown Connerton,” said Rob Park. “Sound carries.”
Park said he didn’t buy the argument that Connerton would be good for the community. “Not at the cost of making it another Wesley Chapel,” he said.
Clarke Hobby, the land use attorney who represents the development, said that the plans for Connerton have been downsized over the years to make it a better fit. Gone are the plans for a 1,000 student community college and a shopping mall. Connerton plans show retail sized to draw local residents rather than trying to pull people into the community from outside.
As for the citizen concerns about needing more open space, Hobby pointed out that the plans for the Village 5 were converted to a 1,000-acre mitigation bank and 3,000 acres were conveyed to the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
After working for more than two years with county development services staff to fine tune the final phase of the Connerton community, “we’re very proud of what we have today,” Hobby said.