December 27, 2017

Babcock Ranch, the solar town, ramps up in 2018

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Published 7:45 a.m. ET Dec. 26, 2017 | Updated 8:00 a.m. ET Dec. 26, 2017

curriculum. Andrea Melendez/

santa claus, wellness center

Santa Claus, depicted by town ambassador Rick Vorell, sits in the shade of a Christmas tree on a warm December day as he awaits a visit from schoolchildren. In the background, construction work is being done on the wellness center.(Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)

It’s not every year a new town starts to take shape.

For Babcock Ranch, a solar-powered community in the works for more than a decade, 2017 turned out to be the year it visually became a town thanks to a restaurant, a school and a community gathering space.

As 2018 starts, its status will jump up a notch with the addition of the first townspeople, the most important component of any community.

The town, with its first residents excited to move in Jan. 4, is along the Charlotte County-Lee County line east of State Road 31.

The News-Press toured the development recently to see what’s happening and what’s in store for 2018 and beyond.

store for 2018 and beyond.

sky and clouds

The sky and clouds appeared to go on forever during a December visit to Babcock Ranch. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)


The town, to be built on an 18,000-acre expanse, is expected to have 19,500 homes and 50,000 residents in 20 to 25 years. There’s a lot that’s been done, but so much more to do in the years to come.

Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson & Partners, discussed the latest developments during an interview in his second-floor office at Woodlea Hall. It is in Founder’s Square, the town hub.

Syd Kitson

Syd Kitson, right, is interviewed Dec. 19 by Luis Fajardo, journalist for the BBC World Service. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)

In 2006, Kitson completed the purchase of the 91,000-acre Babcock Ranch. Over 80 percent of the purchase, or 73,000 acres, was then sold to the state for preservation.

The town was put on hold for nearly a decade amid the Great Recession and the housing collapse. This is the year it finally started to become real.

Today, there are several finished commercial buildings in the downtown square, along with many model homes. Construction workers move about on new roads, soon to be home to hundreds of people.

Lee Health inking deal to become Babcock Ranch’s sole medical provider next year

Sustainability is the town’s hallmark. Solar panels supply power, autonomous shuttles and electric vehicles will be key to getting around, and exercise is embraced. Visitors and residents can use a ride sharing service called Zagster to rent bikes to explore the town and trails.

alligators at babcock ranch

The tops of several alligators can be seen on a remote part of the Babcock Ranch property, in an area where eco-tours still occur. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)

At this stage, Kitson said he takes the most pride in that “we’ve not only fulfilled our promise, we’ve gone above and beyond as it relates to true sustainability and how we treat the environment.”

The plans for Lee County, particularly on the commercial front, should become clearer in the first quarter as final approvals are expected. The town is planned to one day have a total of 6 million square feet of commercial space, with 1.2 million square feet of that in Lee County.

“That’s plenty,” Kitson said. “We don’t need more than that.”

David Mercer

David Mercer, project manager for land development at Babcock Ranch, stands near a weir on the property. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)


David Mercer, project manager for land development, guided a tour around part of the sprawling property, first past playgrounds, a community garden and filter marshes.

“We are helping to treat the water before it gets to the wetland on the other side,” he said, pointing to the south, near the main entrance.

lake house swimming pool

The swimming pool outside the Lake House, a clubhouse at Babcock Ranch. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)


Mercer, driving around, pointed out homes with porches, a feature intended to provide a sense of warmth and camaraderie.

“We want to get back to knowing your neighbor,” he said. “It really has that sense of community.”

Mercer pulled into a spot near the recently completed Lake House, a clubhouse that is next to a swimming pool. It has a gathering space, a kitchen and a pool table. He took a moment to reflect on his experiences over the past three years.

“It’s a 30-year project by the time we’re done and it’s something new every day,” he said.

solar panels

Row upon row of solar panels power Babcock Ranch. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)


Later, the tour went north on State Road 31, past a 300-acre wildlife corridor and a panther mitigation area, on the way to see the solar panels — which sit on 440 acres — that are used to power the town.

A drive into the part of the ranch that still gives eco-tours revealed cattle, birds and alligators, with a bright sky filled with fluffy clouds that went on for miles.

David Mercer

David Mercer, project manager for land development for Babcock Ranch, drives by cattle in the part of the property where eco-tours still occur. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)

Back at the town were James and Donna Aveck, who expect to be the community’s second residents. In mid-January, they will close on the purchase of their 1,955-square-foot home and move in a few days later. They signed the contract in February.

“I think this is a good adventure for us,” Donna Aveck said. “This is what we’re calling our final home.”

James and Donna Aveck

James and Donna Aveck expect to move into their Babcock Ranch home in mid-January. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)


The couple spent most of their lives near Ann Arbor, Michigan, before retiring, traveling the world and moving to Punta Gorda in 2005. They appreciate the sustainable nature of Babcock Ranch.

“All the innovation we love because we embrace change, but we also love the friendliness of it,” she said. “The idea of protecting the environment and having the trails, the community gardens, it just appeals to us. We just feel at peace as soon as we get here.”

Community garden

Inside a community garden at Babcock Ranch, looking out toward homes (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)

The water behind their home is called Lake James, in honor of their early buy-in.

“We’re excited to be part of the history of this town and how it develops,” she said.

As Babcock Ranch adds builder, CEO Kitson talks future

Coming in 2018

Here’s a rundown of upcoming dates and notable happenings:

  • The first residents are expected move in Jan. 4.
  • Slater’s Goods and Provisions, a general store, is expected to open by early January.
  • Several autonomous vehicles, on a closed-loop system, are expected to be operational early next year.
  • The wellness center in Founder’s Square is expected to be open for the March 10 grand opening.
  • The Hatchery business incubator will host VenturePitch, a “Shark Tank” style competition, April 12. The Hatchery is atop Slater’s and the recently opened Square Scoops, which serves ice cream and coffee.
  • A new K-8 school is expected to open in August. Once that happens, the existing school — which presently has 156 students — is expected to serve preschoolers and offer specialty classrooms.
  • Babcock Ranch, which has eight builders, is expected to add two more in 2018.