Modern living in rural Florida, home on the range
There are other such Florida towns assembled from scratch― Celebration near Orlando, Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County, Ave Maria in Collier County, for example. But Babcock Ranch in Charlotte County will dwarf them all, including at buildout some 19,000 homes, a town square and markets bordering pastures or small lakes, the town interlaced with foot and biking trails. Working cowhands remain on a preserved section of the land, as do melon and sod farms.
Model homes in Babcock Ranch will open in early 2017, running from the mid-$200,000s and zooming up to $1 million. Fields of solar panels and natural gas power the grid of this organic village, now in a preconstruction phase of raw dirt and trilling earthmovers.
Babcock Ranch continues as a working farm on a 73,000-acre preserve adjoining the town, says John Hillman, sales and marketing vice president for Kitson & Partners. It's the Florida-based real estate development company owned by ex-NFL player Syd Kitson that purchased 91,000 acres from Babcock heirs in 2006. The 18,000 acres planned for construction, Hillman says, will feature a town with public services, a postal code and a mayor. It has published a first newspaper. Kitson envisions a community of vintage Floridastyle housing, whose residents spend more time on their feet than in cars. “Moving as human beings,” Hillman says.
Babcock Ranch was the largest land preservation purchase in state history, an acquisition and immediate resale to Florida for some $350 million. The land w as once owned by a Montana family making its fortune in gold mines that in 1914 sold its Crescent B Ranch to Edward Babcock, a Pittsburgh timber magnate. It covers 143 square miles. The historic Deseret Ranch on Florida’s east coast by comparison is about 484 square miles and is the country’s largest beef ranch. The planned community of Lakewood Ranch is 14 square miles.
Ave Maria in Collier County has built 1,200 homes around a town center since 2007, says Andrea McLendon of Ave Maria Development. Plans call for 11,000 homes on 5,000 acres at buildout. “Daily conveniences are right there,” she says of the fast-growing community.
Kitson, visiting Babcock a decade ago, pictured a small-town setting with pastures, tidy neighborhoods of homes with front porches, huge natural set-asides, like his New Jersey hometown, he says, to “exemplify what it means to be a town of the future, offering residents a highly unique balance of the most technologically advanced infrastructure and amenities, with ready access to a rich natural environment and a true sense of community.” Kitson left New Jersey to play college and professional football in the late ’70s and early ’80s, before assembling his real estate empire.
By next year Babcock Ranch will include housing, a wellness center, a market café, lakeside restaurant and an outfitter shop. At capacity, it will be home to 50,000 residents.
Babcock Ranch will include such features as the Lake Farm House. First homes become available in early 2017.