January 16, 2018

Modern-day pioneers

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

By Harold Bubil
Real Estate Editor Emeritus


Posted Jan 14, 2018 at 6:46 AM


Richard and Robin Kinley are first residents of 17,500-acre master-planned community of Babcock Ranch


To the locals near Southwest Florida’s bays and beaches, Babcock Ranch seems “way out there” — 30 minutes southeast of downtown Punta Gorda and 20 northeast of Fort Myers.

But young retirees Richard and Robin Kinley say it seems just right.

The Kinleys have the distinction of being the first residents of this 17,500-acre city-in-the-making in southeastern Charlotte County. They closed on their Homes by Towne ranch house about a week ago.

Having moved here from Cobb County, Georgia, in the traffic-clogged Atlanta metro, they don’t have the same perception about Babcock Ranch’s remoteness as longtime Floridians living west of Interstate 75.

The Kinleys are used to two-hour commutes in suburban Atlanta, which is infamous for stand-still traffic on its highways. At Babcock Ranch, Interstate 75 is just 10 minutes away, which seems plenty close to them. Traffic moves quickly along State Road 31, recently renamed “Babcock Ranch Road,” despite the frequent truck traffic.

“The drives are not stop-and-go,” Richard said.

They have, however, noticed how quiet things are at night.

“And being a teacher, I like peace and quiet,” Robin said.

Although their first night in their new home was the coldest of the year in Southwest Florida, the Kinleys did not mind it. Their retirement alternative had been Colorado, until they spent some time in the Fort Collins winter.

“I love Colorado,” Richard said, “but it was a little bit cold for Robin.”

“More than a little bit,” Robin said. “It is a very long winter. We had frozen fog! It builds up on your windshield as you drive.”

In warm Babcock Ranch, the dark skies are another amenity, at least for now in its largely undeveloped state. The Kinseys are astronomy buffs and enjoy the lack of city lights.

“You go out and look at the stars — they have designed the street lights so the light goes downward — and it is so beautiful,” Robin said. “There’s no light pollution.”

When the Kinleys were contemplating retirement and a move to Florida, Richard Kinley, a self-described “technophile,” had followed the online news stories about Babcock Ranch when it was being planned in 2006 to include a 75-megawatt, 440-acre array of solar panels as the key element in powering the city on energy from the sun.

But retirement was still a decade away, which is just as well, because the development plan stalled during the Great Recession. The real estate market rebound in recent years enabled developer Syd Kitson to put the plan in action.

“For the past two years, we have been putting in roads and infrastructure and all those things you need to have a town,” Kitson said. “But it is never a town until you have people there, and now that people are living there, it is an absolute thrill. Now it is all coming together.”

A half-dozen construction companies have 15 model houses open in the first, 1,100-home phase of Babcock Ranch. In the Lake Timber section, where the Kinleys bought, enough purchasers have signed contracts that the developer recently held a meet-and-greet for the neighbors-to-be.

“The real community is the people,” Robin Kinley said. Among their new neighbors will be couples from Maine, Michigan and Punta Gorda.

The Kinleys — he is a semi-retired from Medtronic, the medical equipment manufacturer, and she is a retired high school French teacher — were drawn to Babcock Ranch by its emphasis on sustainability and technology.

It is being promoted in marketing materials as the nation’s first “solar-powered city.”

Also, the town’s layout encourages pedestrian activity. Autonomous shuttles also will transport residents around town.

“We never lived anywhere where we could easily walk to amenities,” Richard Kinley said.

They are not worried about being “pioneers.”

“A lot of people would say, ‘I am going to see if it takes off.’ But I felt the same way as when I bought my Tesla years ago, and now I have 100,000 miles on it. People warned me that the company might not make it,” Richard said. “But I feel my intuition is fairly good, and I was like, ‘I’m sold. It’s going to work.’ ”

“He is an early adopter,” Robin said.

“This was the first place we looked at, and we fell hard for it,” Richard added. “It was the idea, the vision of Babcock Ranch — the autonomous shuttles, the car-charging facilities. Using reclaimed water for irrigation, with 90 percent native plants. Homes built to a green standard. And the way they preserved the original property.”

Babcock Ranch was a 91,000-acre ranch assembled by lumber baron Edward Babcock, former mayor of Pittsburgh, in 1914. In 2006, Kitson & Partners bought the ranch, carved out 17,500 acres for a master-planned community, and sold the rest to the state as a preserve that had been long desired by environmentalists.

“If I were to design a development, I felt like it would be pretty much like this one is,” Richard Kinley said. “That made a lot of difference. The concepts of sustainability seemed futuristic.”

Robin Kinley especially likes the neotraditional architecture.

After the Kinleys signed their contract, Richard said to the sales rep, jokingly, that the lake behind their house should be named for them.

Word got around to Kitson, who saw it not as a joke, but as a good idea. “Lake Kinley” it is.

Within walking distance, Founder’s Square is taking shape with the opening of the neighborhood school, the Square Scoops ice cream shop, Slater’s Goods & Provisions, the Table & Tap restaurant, a public park with lakefront bandshell and Woodlea Hall, which is now an information center and houses developer offices.

Eventually, Babcock Ranch will have 19,500 residences and 6 million square feet of commercial space.

Kitson’s commitment to having a variety of housing options came closer to fruition with the addition of the large national homebuilding companies Lennar and Pulte to the mix.

“We are committed to making Babcock Ranch a multigenerational town with all types of housing options across the full range of price points,” Kitson said in a statement. “We’ve got an outstanding roster of builders who are helping to deliver on that promise.

“The two new neighborhoods now under construction bring in a variety of floorplans in the price ranges where we’ve seen the greatest demand, particularly from young families and empty nesters.”

Lennar’s Trail’s Edge will offer twin villas that are priced from the $190,000s and houses from the low $200,000s.

In the Parkside neighborhood, Pulte’s prices start in the mid-$200,000s.

Pulte is also offering homes, priced from the high-$200,000s, in the Lake Timber neighborhood, where the views are across Lake Babcock to Founder’s Square.

In Lake Timber, the builders include Homes by Towne, Stock, Fox Premier Homes, Florida Lifestyle and Castle Harbor.

Babcock Ranch will celebrate its official grand opening on March 10, 2018, when the final building at Founder’s Square will be completed.