October 18, 2016

Babcock Ranch designed for multi-layered sustainability

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Submitted by Caffrey & Associates4:08 a.m. EDT October 15, 2016

BABCOCK RANCH — When Kitson & Partners’ Chairman and CEO Syd Kitson and a select group of town makers started planning the new town of Babcock Ranch more than 10 years ago, they established a set of core values that continue to provide the foundation for how the town is designed and being built. Foremost was a commitment to preservation, to the environment, and to creating a place that would allow people of all ages to live, learn, work and play in ways that would engender a lasting sense of community. This multi-layered approach to sustainability that embraces both ecological considerations and the town’s social structures has established Babcock Ranch as a first of its kind model for how new towns will be designed and developed in the future.

Kitson’s commitment to preservation has been evident from the beginning. In July 2005, Kitson & Partners entered into a contract to purchase the Babcock Florida Co., including the 91,000-acre ranch. A year later, after working with officials from the state, Charlotte County and Lee County, and engaging environmental groups, ranging from the Sierra Club to Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, The Everglades Foundation, the Everglades Trust, and the Florida Wildlife Federation, Kitson & Partners completed its purchase.

“We closed on the 91,000 acres and simultaneously sold 73,000 acres to the state of Florida in the largest land preservation purchase in the history of the state,” said Syd Kitson. “That meant those 73,000 acres were going to be preserved forever. We had 18,000 acres remaining to build our new town. We’re preserving half of those 18,000 acres. That means 90 percent of the 91,000 acre ranch is preserved forever. That’s a legacy for us and for the people who made it come together.”

Kitson’s planners developed a site plan that ensures more than 90 percent of the town will be built on previously impacted pasture, farm and rock-mined land. The planning and design efforts reduced the town’s wetland impacts to approximately 400 acres.

“We’re fitting the pieces of the town into nature,” said Gary Nelson, Kitson & Partners’ Senior Vice President of Planning and Development. “In many developments, you see them do preserves and they are strictly wetland preserves. The developer is simply not disturbing what they’re not permitted to disturb. If you peel away the master plan here at Babcock, what you see underneath is all of the disturbed areas — the farm fields and the mining places. And when you see all of the preserve places on the plan, you’re seeing the green ways and the flow ways that existed when we started planning Babcock Ranch.”

To ensure Babcock Ranch will have the cleanest energy of any town in the country, Syd Kitson worked with Florida Power & Light (FPL) to develop a partnership that will provide solar generated power by day and natural gas generated power at night. Kitson & Partners gave FPL 400 acres on which to build an on-site photovoltaic solar array that will include 350,000 solar panels and a 75 mega-watt power generation and distribution system. “Smart grid” digital electric distribution technologies will optimize efficiency and lower utility costs for the town’s residences and businesses. The Babcock Ranch Solar Center is scheduled to go online in November.

“The sustainability story here is unique,” said Kitson & Partners’ President and CIO ,Thomas Hoban. “Our solar energy comes from the site, our mining operation delivers the fill and road aggregate we need from the site. We’ve got a sod farm on the property that delivers the sod we need, we’re going to have farming on the site to deliver our produce, we’ve got a water system on site that’s tapping into the aqua system beneath Babcock to provide our water, and we’ll have our own wastewater treatment facility. We’re going to have a greywater irrigation system for the homes at Babcock Ranch. From a sustainability perspective, it doesn’t get more sustainable than that.”

Kitson has extended its commitment to eco-sustainability to include green building. Dr. Jennifer Languell, owner of Trifecta Construction Solutions, has been involved with the Florida Green Building Coalition since its inception 15 years ago, and with the U.S. Green Building Council since the 1990s. Over the past 10 years, she has developed the green building guidelines at Babcock Ranch.

There is another layer to the sustainability conversation at Babcock Ranch. Kitson & Partners calls it social sustainability and it is defined by the degree to which people will experience joy by calling the town home. Babcock Ranch is not another gated golf course community that has defined the Southwest Florida development model for the past half-century. It is a town that offers a place where people will know one another, raise a family or start a second career, and a place that will recall a simpler bygone era.

A walkable, bicycle lifestyle, regional pre-World War II architectural styles with front porches situated more closely to the street, and pocket parks and green spaces will generate an enhanced level of neighbor-to-neighbor connection. Every home will be within a five-minute walk of a park or green space, and every neighborhood will provide a trail head offering access to a 50-mile network of nature trails

Phase I of the downtown district will include an outfitters store, a produce market and café, a lakefront restaurant, an Encore Career Center, and Founder’s Square, a lakefront green space. Ultra-high speed internet will connect homes and businesses to the world. Autonomous vehicles will provide an alternative way to move about town. Babcock Ranch’s first school will open in fall 2017 and a wellness center will open in spring 2018.

“Communities are about building relationships and relationships transcend a particular segment of the market,” said Babcock Ranch President Rick Severance. “It’s not just about a baby boomer, or a 50 plus or the millennials. We’ve created the environment so there can be this social connection and folks may not even recognize that’s what it is, but it’s really mindful planning and being very thoughtful about creating environments where they can integrate together.”

“When we looked at creating this sustainable community, we thought about how we could treat this land and how we could create the places we wanted to create so that it would be additive to future generations and not diminish them,” said Syd Kitson. “So creating a place that caters to not only what’s going on today, but really is thoughtful about the future and can serve as a model for the development of towns in the future is what we’re trying to do here. And that legacy is very, very important to us.”

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