March 20, 2017

HAROLD BUBIL: Babcock Ranch making development history

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Posted March 16, 2017

Florida development history was made last weekend at Babcock Ranch in southeastern Charlotte County.

In a scene that was reminiscent of the real estate promotional events of the 1920s Florida Land Boom, about 20,000 people attended the two-day Founders Fest event, which gave the public its first look at the first buildings and model homes in the “solar-powered town.”

On Saturday, traffic clogged the road to Fort Myers, 20 miles distant, and visitors came from as far as Naples and Sarasota, said developer Syd Kitson of Kitson & Partners.

“People care” about development with sustainability as a core principle, Kitson said. A 400-acre photovoltaic farm run by FPL will supply more power than the city uses.

About 50,000 people could be living there in 30 or 40 years. While at least one visitor referred to the location as “the middle of nowhere,” judging from the response, Babcock Ranch soon will be somewhere.

“I can see the vision” of a solar-powered city, said Lisa Padilla, who attended the festival on Sunday with her son, Jonathan Lopez, both from Cape Coral. “This is a dream come true. We must find new ways to save energy.

“I would absolutely move here,” she added. “Why not? It looks like an ideal community.”

Padilla’s enthusiasm for Babcock Ranch could be related to her other son’s work for Babcock Ranch. Anthony DeBono III is CEO and president of D3 Creative Studios, which did the 3-D plans for the community.

Developer Syd Kitson said the large turnout of people was an endorsement of his concept that development can be done in a sustainable way.

The community has a number of “green” initiatives besides the solar component — FPL’s farm of photovoltaic panels on the Babcock Ranch property will feed energy into the electrical power grid, and Babcock Ranch will draw from that.

Graywater is used for irrigation. Homes have gas appliances and are Florida Green Building Coalition certified. The community is planned to be walkable and encourage just one car per household. Self-driving electric shuttle buses, which seat six, will provide transportation inside the community.

“This was just a chance for people to see the progress we’ve made,” said Kitson, who has been planning the 17,000-acre community for a decade. “This is not even our grand opening, which will come next year.

“People can see we are doing what we said we will do. The only thing that has surprised me is how many people showed up. We were hoping for a good crowd, but you just don’t know. We’re stunned.”

Lennar, which will build in a lower price range, has been added to a builder lineup that already includes Stock Custom Homes, Florida Lifestyle Homes and Homes by Towne.

To get to Babcock Ranch, take Interstate 75 south to State Road 78. Go east three miles, then north on State Road 31. Babcock Ranch is four miles on the right.