Articles

Florida Starts Planning State’s First ‘Connected City’

The state sponsored initiative is meant to provide ultra-fast Internet to attract tech companies to settle in Pasco County, Fla., and pair it with modern public transportation and various types of housing.

by D'Ann Lawrence White, Tampa Tribune, Fla. / December 11, 2015

(TNS) -- It may sound like science fiction, but urban planners and communications industry gurus plan to create the country’s first techno mecca in central Pasco County.

At a workshop Tuesday, Pasco County commissioners got a glimpse of how this futuristic community designed around a super-fast communications system with 1 gigabit of WiFi speed might look.

The concept is part of a pilot program approved by the state Legislature last year to create the state’s first “Connected City,” intended to provide an ultra-fast communications network destined to attract industries with high-paying jobs and entrepreneurs with new technologies to the area. In addition, the Connected City is expected to embody all of the best elements of modern urban design including multimodal transportation networks, a range of housing types, conservation elements and cutting-edge amenities.

Metro Development Group in Tampa, which designs master-planned communities throughout central Florida, is overseeing the creation of Pasco’s Connected City with the help of organizations like US Ignite, a nonprofit group founded by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation.

“This is a concept that doesn’t exist anywhere in the United States,” Bill Wallace, executive director of US Ignite, told commissioners. “We think it’s a 21st-century necessity for communities to make use of fiber networks to create next-generation apps to drive quality of life and economic development. These are responsive, adaptive systems that will benefit the residents and create competitive advantages for Pasco County.”

Patrick Gassaway, president of Heidt Design of Tampa, the engineering company working with Metro Development, said the Connected City will encompass five approved major planned developments in the Wesley Chapel area: Epperson Ranch South, EPCO Ranch North, Promenade Town Center West, Ashley Groves and Cannon Ranch. Totaling 7,841 acres, these developments are bordered by State Road 52 to the north, Interstate 75 to the west, Curley Road to the east and Overpass Road and its extension to the south.

They now are approved for a total of 8,610 residential units and 659,500 square feet of industry, retail and office uses. Metro Development is proposing to amend the county’s land-use plan to allow 37,771 residential units with an emphasis on multifamily units and 115.8 million square feet of nonresidential uses.

“The density needs to go vertical to make a transit- and pedestrian-friendly footprint,” Gassaway said.

“This will be an innovation district in Pasco County with the ultimate mash-up of entrepreneurs, industry and educational opportunities,” said Kartik Goyani, Metro’s vice president of operations. “It’s an engine for economic development and we’re launching an international branding campaign to bring companies here.”

Goyani said industries have three prerequisites for relocating: availability of fiber technology, renewable resources and world-class amenities.

To that end, the Connected City’s smart gigabit fiber communications networks will save energy by connecting to intelligent transit systems that regulate traffic flow in real time along with utility systems, sprinkler systems and reclaimed water lines.

In addition, Goyani said, they will integrate solar energy and other renewable resources as well as create amenities including 1,625 acres of active and passive parks, extensive bike paths and trail systems, and the country’s first “crystal lagoon.” Crystal lagoons such as ones existing in Dubai, Chile and Mexico are massive man-made lakes placed in urban settings that feature white sand beaches and clear water.

“We’re very proud to be putting the first one in the United States right here in Pasco County,” Goyani said.

Gassaway said it will take time to develop the project.

“We have a 50-year planning horizon so we can plan infrastructure and other important uses at the beginning, and will continue to make adjustments with new technology and new concepts,” he said. “It seems like a long way off but, quite frankly, if we don’t plan now we’ll never get it. It’s a critical development to include this in our current planning for this 50-year horizon. We want to make sure this area is widely successful.”

Wallace commended the county commission for thinking “outside the box.”

“Your public-private partnership with Metro is unparalleled. I’ve never seen this kind of expedited local approvals,” he said. “It’s precedent-setting. It takes a leap of faith and you have embraced that leap of faith.”

He also lauded the county for having the foresight to apply for the White House’s TechHire Initiative. He announced at Tuesday’s meeting that Pasco is the first county in the nation to be approved for the program, which matches communities with boot camps and online training courses hosted by high-tech industries seeking to fill 120,000 high-paying technology positions.

Commissioners said they look forward to seeing all aspects of the Connected City materialize.

“This is a new, exciting, futuristic type of development and I’m glad Pasco County is embracing it,” said Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey.

The commission will host another workshop on the matter Jan. 19. It then will vote on adopting the plan at a hearing April 5.

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