Babcock ‘grand reveal’ promises a ‘town of the future’
The crowd of 600-plus fit no ready demographic – big-money investors, farmers, ranchers, staunch environmentalists and government officials by the score – but they all came to Babcock Ranch with a single purpose Friday, to celebrate Earth Day with a “grand reveal” of what developers promise will be the country’s most innovative, most sustainable, new town.
Those gathered under the huge white tent at the community-to-be off SR 31 just north of the Lee County/Charlotte County line, also came to celebrate a concept 10 years in the making – that large-scale development carved from wetlands and pasture can not only preserve the land’s natural attributes but enhance them.
“Here we have conservation. Here we have solar,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, in possibly another state first – an environmental endorsement of a development project the size of Manhattan that will add 19,500 homes and 6 million square feet of commercial, office and industrial space where cow pastures and watermelon farms now dot the landscape.
“…It’s win-win,” Draper said.
Also among the opening speakers was Adam Putnam, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.
The Babcock Ranch development, the first phase of which is expected to see “vertical construction” starting in June and the completion its initial downtown building early next year, is a complete reversal of how Florida has seen development progress for the last century and a half.
Instead of draining anything and everything as fast as could be done, developer Syd Kitson wholly reversed that approach, Putnam said.
“This represents the opposite of that,” he said, adding that the Babock Ranch development will help preserve old Florida, including ranch land that had been family owned for generations.
“This is a crown jewel in the heartland of our state,” Putnam said.
The accolades from hard-sell sources did not come easy.
The 92,000-acre property Kitson reportedly paid $700 million for in 2006 was first eyed by the state for purchase when the Babcock family, which had purchased the then-Cresent Ranch B in 1914, put it up for sale in 2005.
Although environmentalists strongly urged the land buy as an enhancement to preservation land already owned, the purchase stalled due to price. Kitson then came in with plan that would allow the state to buy about 73,000 acres of the most sensitive areas for preservation, leaving about 18,000 for the town Kitson will now build over the next 20 years.
More than 90 percent of the acres to be developed already have been impacted by agriculture-related use such as ranching, farming and rock mining, according to information provided by Kitson & Partners.
Of the acreage retained, half has been earmarked for greenways, parks and lakes. Four hundred and forty-three acres have been dedicated to a massive 75-megawatt solar power plant that will be capable of generating enough power to energize the entire town during daylight hours while its planned water management system will set a new standard for watershed protection, flood control and water use, officials said. Natural water flow is to be restored as will be some 70 acres of historic wetlands while filter marshes will be used to protect water quality. Seventy-five acres of farmland will be returned to panther habitat.
The town will employ “smart grid” technology to reduce energy consumption, install additional solar panels on buildings, and use construction standards that already have earned it certified town status from the Florida Green Building Coalition.
“Babcock Ranch will 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, said Kitson, who serves as Kitson & Partners chairman and CEO.
The community also will be small-town pretty with a true neighborhood feel, Kitson promises, with both “timeless” architecture built around a variety of walkable neighborhood concepts, all designed with attention to “micro-climate” details – shaded pathways, miles of nature trails, tree-lined streets and plenty of shaded areas.
Phase 1, now under way will include both the first residential component and the first element of the town’s downtown, which will ultimately stretch a mile.
Eleven hundred residential units – 700 single-family homes, 70 townhome/villas and 330 condominium units are planned for Phase 1, with the first neighborhood, Lake Timber, to be built adjacent to the downtown area.
Prices will range from the mid $200,000 to $800,000-plus with construction of 16 models to begin in July.
Also planned is the community’s first town garden.
The commercial element of 70,000 square feet will include a lake house, with neighborhood pool, barbecue area and playground; fishing dock and observation deck, dog park and trails. The first buildings will be constructed around a central lakefront park and will include a lakefront restaurant, discovery center, outdoor outfitters, a business “incubator,” wellness center, market cafe and a coffee/ice cream shop.
It also will include the town’s first school – a K-8 charter school, set for opening in 2017.
“This is all going to go pretty quickly,” said Babcock Ranch spokesperson Lisa Hall on site at the downtown construction area Friday where dirt and rock were heaped in piles near what will become Lake Timber.
“A year from now we expect to have people living and enjoying this,” she said.