Jennifer Rose was in the market for a home, and narrowed her choices down to two communities.
Her realtor, however, suggested they take one more drive, this time to Wesley Chapel, to a large stretch of land off Curley Rd. with nothing to see but trees, grass, dirt and tractors.
Rose, a hair stylist at Salon Loft, was sold a vision that day, of a development with affordable homes that were cheaper than they ones she had previously looked at, that would be built from the ground up with gigabit internet, roads that would one day handle autonomous vehicles, a community that would be vibrant and active, and year-round parties and events.
Oh, and this new community also promised to be home to a Crystal Lagoon — which boasts a specially- formulated system for keeping its water crystal clear and clean. The lagoon, the first of its kind in North America, will be surrounded by white sandy beaches, have a swim up-bar, an adventure cove, cabanas and multiple party areas.
“There was nothing there at the time,’’ Rose says. “Even the model home was only in framing. But, I could just see the outline of the lagoon.”
The pictures of what that Crystal Lagoon will become sealed the deal.
“I absolutely loved the whole concept,’’ said Rose, who bought a five-bedroom, 2,500-sq.ft. home. “I saw all the pictures of what it was going to be. It was swimming in bottled water that piqued my interest.”
Rose is one of the first handful of residents to move into Epperson, a new community being constructed by the Metro Development Group north of S.R. 54 off Curley Rd.
Epperson is the first part of the “connected city,” a project created by a senate bill that called for a private-public partnership between Metro Development and Pasco County.
The project will turn 7,800 acres of mostly undeveloped land in Wesley Chapel into a mini-city of its own within 50 years, with 37,000 homes, more than 60,000 jobs and almost 100,000 projected new residents.
“The connected city thing is hard to imagine,” says Diane Bissett, who became the first-ever resident in Epperson. “It will be neat to see it come together, and to say we were a part of that.”
As an employee of D.L. Horton, one of six homebuilders in Epperson, Bissett had an inside track to the first home being built in what promises to be an original, almost-futuristic community.
Bissett had been eyeing the new development for what felt like forever, primarily because of the promise of the 7.5-acre Crystal Lagoon.
When she initially heard about the project, she says, she was working for a different homebuilder in Watergrass, right across the street. Not only did she think she would never be able to buy a home there, she says it just didn’t seem real what Metro was proposing.
“No way,’’ Bissett thought.
However, changing jobs and getting first dibs on a house at Epperson, Bissett, the mother of a 2-year-old boy and 4- and 14-year-old daughters, jumped at the chance to be part of something fresh and new.
And, as it turned out, a little frightening. For a month, Bissett and her family were the only residents on their street.
“There was a whole lot of dirt and not much else when I moved in,’’ Bissett said. “It was very dark and scary. It was a little spooky in the beginning.”
Bissett was the first of what is now roughly 60 residents living in Epperson, where homes are still going up and will one day number roughly 2,000.
Home sales have so far exceeded expectations., driven by the excitement over the first Metro Lagoon by Crystal Lagoons, which is currently being filled in anticipation of a spring opening.
“The Lagoon effect is real,’’ said Greg Singleton, the president of Metro Development, recently at an event announcing that water has started filling in the lagoon.
Todd Carrier bought the second home in Epperson, and wasn’t going to let bad timing deter him once he read about the lagoon.
Carrier had just bought a home in Spring Hill and had lived in it five months when he heard about a Crystal Lagoon coming to Wesley Chapel sometime around April.
Not only did Carrier get approved, the 25-year-old AT&T sales rep found someone to rent his Spring Hill home to within five weeks.
“I heard about the lagoon and I wanted to be part of that before the prices went sky-high and got to the point where I couldn’t afford it,” Carrier says.
An avid gamer, Carrier is excited about the gigabit internet speeds, which can download high-definition movies in 30 seconds, and says the community events also are a bonus.
He grew up in a new community once before, when his parents moved into The Preserve at Lake Thomas in Land O’Lakes in 2000.
“It was not as nice as this is going to be though,” he says.
In the end, of course, it was the lagoon that spurred him to dive in headfirst.
When friends and coworkers ask him where he lives, he often just describes his new digs as “the place with the lagoon.”
“They don’t know Epperson,” he says, “but they know the lagoon.”
While the allure of the lagoon has brought everyone together, Bissett says being part of something so innovative and buzzworthy is intoxicating. Her son loves watching the construction trucks drive by as new homes continue to sell at a rapid rate.
Bissett jokes that for years, many of her South Tampa friends often passed on coming over on weekends because Wesley Chapel was too far a drive. Now, “I’ve had a lot of friends come out of the woodwork to ask me, ‘What are you doing next summer?’”
As someone who doesn’t take a lot of vacations, Bissett says Epperson, “will be like living in a resort vacation place.”
The community already has hosted trick-or-treating, and the streets are now being filled in the evenings with children riding bicycles and hanging out in their friends’ driveways. Bissett thinks a special camaraderie has developed amongst what is currently a small, tight-knit group.
Rose agrees. She was the third person to move into Epperson, and from there, the numbers have steadily risen. One by one, each home on her street was filled with a new family. and her children, Christopher, 11, and Kayla, 9, have made new friends with each “Sold” sign that goes up.
“Oh my gosh, they love it,’’ says Rose, who previously rented a home in Wesley Chapel. “In our old neighborhood, I couldn’t get my kids to go outside. Now, I can’t keep them inside.”
It won’t be long now before what will be the center of the Epperson universe is ready for its first swimsuit-clad visitors, and the vision sold to the current residents comes into full view. Residents will lay in hammocks on Gasparilla Island after filling up at the lagoon’s swim-up restaurant and bar, or rent kayaks to cruise the waters of Venture Bay, or maybe just relax at The Grotto and cool off under the waterfall.
“The lagoon,’’ Rose says, “is going to be the place to be.”