May 10, 2016

Editorial – New model for development

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Charlotte Sun – editorial from 4/28


New model for development

The Next Big Thing was officially feted last week during a “Grand Reveal” ceremony for Babcock Ranch, billed as both the nation’s first “solar town” and the nation’s largest single development currently under construction.

Babcock Ranch is a little smaller than the island of Manhattan, as noted in a story in the Sun on Saturday. The town itself is 18,000 acres; Manhattan is 21,500, with 1.6 million inhabitants and many, many more daily visitors.

When completed, Babcock Ranch is expected to be home to only 50,000 people — roughly figuring 2.5 people for each of the 19,500 homes slated to be built in coming decades.

Not exactly the Big Apple. But what makes Babcock shine is its environmentallysustainable ethic — its core values, if you will.

Of primary significance is how this development fits in with a larger tract of land in southeastern Charlotte County and Lee County. To create Babcock Ranch, developer Syd Kitson and his partners bought 91,000 acres of the Babcock wildlife preserve, kept 18,000 for the village itself and sold 73,000 to the state of Florida. The $350 million sales price made it the largest individual land sale in state history.

The larger piece is a public preserve. That in itself is remarkable. Doubly remarkable is how Kitson’s housing and commercial development fits into the whole.

The town of Babcock Banch will emanate from a downtown area with shops, offices, restaurants, a school and other public facilities. Some 6 million square feet of commercial space is expected someday. It will not be gated, but open to the public.

Then there’s the massive, impressive 74.5-megawatt “Solar Energy Center” built by Florida Power & Light. Solar panels covering 430 acres (more than 400 football fields) will supply electricity to the site, with excess feeding the FPL grid. The hope is to become the first town where solar production actually out-paces use.

Beyond that light energy footprint, Babcock Ranch will have a “smart grid” throughout, as well as vehicle- charging stations. There will be 500 acres of lakes and an extensive network of walking trails. In total, half the land area in the village itself will be green space.

As Kitson noted last week, it’s taken 10 years (through one severe recession) to get to this point. This time next year he expects completion of the first phase of 1,100 homes of varying styles and sizes, as well as first-phase retail, restaurants, a fitness center and charter school.

Our hopes are high that, 10 years from now, many will be drawn to Babcock Ranch to see how new development in 21st century Florida can be done in a smart, sustainable way.