BUILD­ING A COM­MU­NITY AT BABCOCK RANCH

The new eco-friendly South­west Florida town comes to life as more peo­ple call it home

RSWLiving - - Contents - BY BETH LUBEREC KI

Sus­tain­abil­ity and low elec­tric bills make liv­ing in Babcock Ranch at­trac­tive, but there’s much more to this so­lar-pow­ered town. Res­i­dents add com­mu­nity spirit and a healthy life­style to the list.

Babcock Ranch is more than just a place in the sun. This new, 18,000-acre Florida com­mu­nity in Char­lotte and Lee coun­ties lit­er­ally de­pends on the sun, as it’s been dubbed “Amer­ica’s first so­lar-pow­ered town.” Plan­ning for Babcock Ranch started back in 2006. The Great Re­ces­sion put a pause on devel­op­ment, but work fi­nally be­gan in late 2015. The com­mu­nity’s gen­er­ated a lot of buzz for its focus on the en­vi­ron­ment, sus­tain­abil­ity and smart growth. But are reg­u­lar folks as pas­sion­ate about Babcock’s eco-friendly ap­proach as its de­vel­op­ers?

Looks like it. As of press time, the com­mu­nity had logged about 400 home sales and was av­er­ag­ing five to 10 home sales a week in sum­mer 2019. Down­town district Founder’s Square is filled with shops, restau­rants and other busi­nesses that at­tract res­i­dents and folks who live out­side Babcock Ranch. The A-rated Babcock Neigh­bor­hood School has pupils in kinder­garten through eighth grade. Five miles of hik­ing trails are open and Lake Babcock of­fers a fish­ing dock, and kayak and ca­noe launch.

“Peo­ple are not ‘pioneering’ anymore at Babcock Ranch,” says Syd Kit­son, CEO/chair­man of Kit­son & Part­ners, the de­vel­oper of Babcock Ranch. “We’re a full-fledged, op­er­at­ing com­mu­nity. Our big­gest prob­lem now is try­ing to get all the houses built; we are lit­er­ally build­ing houses as fast as we pos­si­bly can.”

A to­tal of 19,500 res­i­dences are planned for the even­tual town of 50,000. The first phase of home con­struc­tion in­cludes 700 sin­gle-fam­ily and 400 at­tached and mul­ti­fam­ily homes in a range of price points start­ing in the low $200,000s. Ar­chi­tec­tural styles rep­re­sented in­clude Crafts­man, Farm­house, Coastal Gulf

Ver­nac­u­lar, Span­ish and Colo­nial/West Indies, and homes are de­signed to both blend with the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and re­call sim­pler times.

They’re also, of course, built with en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity in mind. So the com­mu­nity’s res­i­den­tial de­sign prin­ci­ples in­clude things such as porches and eaves for pas­sive cooling, faucets and show­er­heads that con­serve water, high­per­for­mance win­dows and in­su­la­tion and low-im­pact na­tive land­scap­ing. All homes must achieve at least a Bronze stan­dard of cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from the Florida Green Build­ing Coali­tion.

Builders work­ing at the com­mu­nity in­clude Stock Clas­sic Homes, Pulte Homes, Len­nar and Mer­itage Homes. The 10 dif­fer­ent builders of­fer more than 50 home de­signs rang­ing from 1,107 to 5,000 square feet.

“We have found that the builders have been ex­tremely re­cep­tive [to the com­mu­nity],” says Kit­son. “They un­der­stand what Babcock Ranch is about but also rec­og­nize that this is the wave of the fu­ture. Things we talked about eight, nine or 10 years ago that were kind of ground­break­ing are now just be­com­ing stan­dard.”

For­mer Es­tero res­i­dents Janette Du­laney and Daniel Geist pur­chased a six-bed­room, more than 3,800-square-foot Len­nar home in the com­mu­nity’s Trail’s Edge neigh­bor­hood. “Our first elec­tric­ity

“PEO­PLE ARE NOT ‘PIONEERING’ ANYMORE AT BABCOCK RANCH. WE’RE A FULL-FLEDGED, OP­ER­AT­ING COM­MU­NITY.” —Syd Kit­son, CEO/chair­man of Kit­son & Part­ners, the de­vel­oper of Babcock Ranch

bill was half the cost of our old home’s, yet we have dou­ble the square footage now,” says Du­laney. “It’s mind-blow­ing!”

The parents of three young children chose their neigh­bor­hood for its fam­ily-friendly ap­peal and the com­mu­nity in gen­eral for its appreciati­on of the out­doors. “We love the hik­ing trails, out­door ac­tiv­i­ties, lakes and the em­pha­sis on na­ture,” says Du­laney. “We own pad­dle­boards and a ca­noe and often take the kids out on the water or go fish­ing.”

Healthy liv­ing and a re­spect for the land are two of the core ini­tia­tives of the com­mu­nity. “The more peo­ple are out­side and ap­pre­ci­ate their en­vi­ron­ment, the more re­spect­ful they’re go­ing to be,” says Kit­son.

Tech­nol­ogy was also im­por­tant in the mas­ter plan. Through a part­ner­ship with Cen­tu­ryLink, gigabit in­ter­net is stan­dard for ev­ery home, mak­ing it fast and easy to work from home and take ad­van­tage of tech­nol­ogy in other ways now and in the fu­ture. Babcock Ranch even of­fers free Wi-Fi out­doors, and if that pro­vides the in­cen­tive for someone to get out into na­ture, Kit­son’s OK with that.

“We’re go­ing to do ev­ery­thing we can to get peo­ple out­side,” he says. “So we’ll bring the tech­nol­ogy out­side and meet them there.”

To so­lar-power the town, Babcock Ranch part­nered with Florida Power & Light on a so­lar fa­cil­ity that will pro­duce all of the en­ergy the town will need to func­tion—and then some. But that’s just the be­gin­ning of what’s pos­si­ble. The com­mu­nity has also be­gun rolling out its au­tonomous ve­hi­cle sys­tem, fea­tur­ing self-driv­ing, elec­tric-pow­ered ve­hi­cles. As that sys­tem grows, Kit­son en­vi­sions it lead­ing to ma­jor life­style changes for res­i­dents.

“We’re hop­ing that in a few years peo­ple re­al­ize they only need one car—and even­tu­ally re­al­ize they don’t need any cars,” he says. “When you talk about the game chang­ers, the things that can really have an im­pact on so­ci­ety, that’s one of them.”

Babcock Ranch def­i­nitely has a bold vi­sion. But it’s one plenty of its new res­i­dents share, and some­thing oth­ers want to repli­cate—based on the phone calls Kit­son has re­ceived from around the world.

“Our res­i­dents truly be­lieve that what we are do­ing is the right thing,” says Kit­son. “I hope we’re start­ing a model for be­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble. A thou­sand peo­ple a day are mov­ing into Florida and they need to live some­where, and we feel you need to do it the right way. Cli­mate change is not a po­lit­i­cal is­sue: It’s a sci­ence and fact is­sue, and we’re deal­ing with it head on.”

Babcock Ranch of­fers homes in a va­ri­ety of styles and price points that are de­signed with en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity in mind.

The first restau­rant to open in Babcock Ranch, Ta­ble & Tap uses fresh, lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents, in­clud­ing pro­duce grown in the Babcock Ranch com­mu­nity gar­den and hon­eys har­vested at the com­mu­nity.

Founder’s Square serves as the com­mu­nity’s cen­tral gath­er­ing place and is home to shops, restau­rants, Lee Health’s Healthy Life Cen­ter, an in­ter­ac­tive splash pad and other ameni­ties.

Stu­dents in kinder­garten through eighth grade attend the com­mu­nity’s A-rated Babcock Neigh­bor­hood School.

Res­i­dents min­gle with their neigh­bors at Food Truck Fri­days.

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