Pasco County may soon be adding another major medical center as Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has a contract to develop in the “connected city” area. Pasco commissioners approved the proposal late Tuesday.
The potential hospital site was originally envisioned as a large multifamily and retail area. But a new buyer stepped forward and “we got lucky in the intervening time,” Clarke Hobby, the developer’s representative, told commissioners.
“I’m very proud to say that I’m working with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and they are the contract purchasers of the Wildcat Bailes site,” Hobby said. “In my mind, this is going to be one of the more transformative things in this area of the county and the connected city plan than we could have ever hoped for.”
The original plan “had always called for major health care and employment on that site,” Hobby said, but he added that the other plus to this project was that now the developer was going to provide much-needed roadwork to McKendree Road up front, which would likely have not happened under the previous plan.
All Children’s is the second major specialty medical center to announce plans for opening a location in Pasco in the last couple of years. Moffitt Cancer Center is the anchor of another major development project in Central Pasco. Plans call for a 775-acre global innovation center focused on cancer care and research.
Known as the Wildcat Bailes project, the development including All Children’s Hospital stretches over 176 acres and includes 365,000 square feet of hospital space, 1,275 multifamily residences, 155,000 square feet of retail, 150,000 square feet of office space, 250,000 square feet of medical office space and 250 hotel rooms. The site is located east of Interstate 75 and north of Overpass Road.
The connected city area is a 7,800-acre swath of the county stretching from Wesley Chapel into eastern Pasco. When the Florida Legislature approved the pilot concept for Pasco eight years ago, one of the big draws was that it was supposed to feature a high-speed internet system to support businesses that locate there.
Roughly bordered by State Road 52 on the north, I-75 on the east, Overpass Road on the south and Curley Road on the west, the zone is expected to house 96,000 residents and 37,000 homes and produce 65,000 jobs over the next 50 years.
Nearby residents, however, had numerous concerns with the plans on the drawing board.
Patrick Gant and Tonya Riddlesworth, owners of one 5-acre parcel on McKendree Road, hired attorney Jane Graham to argue for the developer to pay attention to the needs of the existing land owners. Graham said the traffic projections were wrong, the developer wasn’t matching the character of the surrounding area and was asking for too much of a break on providing park space in the development for future residents.
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Jim Marinari, who lives on Elam Road, said the idea of having a major hospital and large retail area near the currently sparsely developed area was “a nightmare.”
Other neighbors said their road could not handle a crush of new traffic cutting through. Another said that additional community needs from schools to fire stations will not be available as the population in the area climbs while some said the entire nature of their neighborhood would change.
Hobby responded that the school district was proactive in getting schools ready in advance of development and public safety officials were part of the development discussions. He assured residents that road concerns would be addressed. He also said that the area was never part of a protected rural zone.
Joel Tew, who was representing the developer of the residential portions of the site, said his client was already exceeding the standing requirements to buffer the home of Gant and Riddlesworth with an 8-foot wall. He also pointed out that, while the developer has agreed to prohibit new residents from using motorized boats on the adjacent lakes, they actually had just as much ownership right to use those lakes as existing residents do.
County commissioners also had questions about the plans. For several meetings now, they have expressed concern that in all of the connected city areas, the spaces set aside for single-family homes were already gone. Both the Mirada and Epperson Ranch developments are part of that area.
Developer representatives and county staff have said the high-density, multifamily development entitlements still available in the connected city are needed to pay for the roads and other infrastructure necessary to make the mixed-use community work.