Mod­ern liv­ing in ru­ral Florida, home on the range

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT Craig Gar­rett is Group Ed­i­tor-in-Chief for TOTI Me­dia.

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.

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