The New Today: Babcock Ranch Lights Up the Southwest Florida Horizon
The new city of Babcock Ranch, under early development just east of I-75 and on the border of Charlotte and Lee Counties, will eventually have 19,500 homes, with all power from its adjacent 443-acre solar field. When all 330,000 panels are up, they might just generate enough high voltage energy to match John Hillman!
John is the Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Kitson & Partners, the firm behind the ambitious Babcock Ranch alternative energy community, the most sustainable in the United States. It is a 91,000-acre public/private concept, with Kitson & Partners donating 73,000 to the State as a nature preserve, leaving 18,000 for development: 13,000 in Charlotte and 5,000 in Lee.
Babcock Ranch has Community Gardens, Native Landscaping, and Farming to grow Healthy Food
“Even out of that, another 9,000 acres is for parks and natural areas,” comments John. “There will be community gardens, native landscaping, and farming to grow healthy food – if you want to watch the farmer raise your produce, go down the street and see him!”
The residential development will not encroach upon the land’s unique natural characteristics, emphasizes John.
“Every parcel we develop is already scarred from previous use, like farming or mining, allowing us to preserve the magnificent native areas. Even though the Town of Babcock Ranch will be 9,000 acres, that build-out will take roughly three decades, meaning even the vast majority of that land will be natural for years.”
Babcock Ranch homes will be Old Florida, with 8-foot-wide front porches, and neighborhoods interconnected by trails to not only discourage driving but encourage taking the long way home.
Babcock Ranch: Sustainable and Walkable Community
Work to date includes roadways, paving, and sidewalks. Construction on 16 model homes, with the development’s four builders each contributing four, begins in August. “Our essential component is to keep people connected to each other and the land,” John says. “Babcock Ranch homes will be Old Florida, with 8-foot-wide front porches, and neighborhoods interconnected by trails to not only discourage driving but encourage taking the long way home. Conversely, our technical innovations will be the finest and fastest on the planet; we will be a Future-Proof Community!” Models open in January 2017, with the first residents in February or March 2017.
Nature is Everywhere at Babcock Ranch
Nature is everywhere. “As soon as you drive over the entry bridge, you experience a half-mile water feature, with oaks, pines, cabbage palms, and tree-lined streets,” John offers. In addition to the surrounding preserves, pocket parks and water recreation are prevalent. Every neighborhood features a recreation amenity as well as a trailhead to paths that band the vibrant community together. John describes Babcock Ranch as “Front Porch Central! Neighbors will share community gardens, growing everything from chives and basil to food, and few things connect people like food.” Neighborhoods feature front porches facing inward so everyone lives on a park, while alleys are in the rear for refuse and other unsightly services. “You will never see a garbage can in front of a Babcock Ranch residence,” smiles John! Water recreation is strongly encouraged, though there will be no power motors on the lakes.
Community Health & Quality of Life Essential in Town Master Plan
“The Town master plan allows everyone to walk to Downtown,” John explains. “Our Main Street is actually called B Street in ode to Crescent B Ranch, the historic name of the property. It will have several essential elements, like restaurants, a combination ‘Town Hall meets an Outfitters,’ with a K through 8 charter school, ice cream store, and wellness center that is more a YMCA on steroids!” Collaborative work space can be a business incubator or communal spot for the growing number of those in their 50s, 60s, and 70s who still professionally dabble. Downtown will be ideal for a business breakfast or lunch, then working with like-minded people.
John comments that “fun is at the top of the Babcock Ranch list!” Its center green accommodates 1,000 people and will host concerts in the park, Friday night food trucks, and a wide variety of special events. “Most of our residents will be from the ‘G.I. Joe Generation,’” John says. “They dress casual and live a relaxed lifestyle. They do not want or need a formal county club setting, and that is our strength.”
Our ancestors believed in something greater than just living; they valued community.
The most common misconception about Babcock Ranch to date is that “it is so far out in the country,” John marvels in amazement. “The truth is it is just 4 miles east of I-75 and 15 minutes from Downtown Fort Myers, with convenient access from I-31. Babcock Ranch is in an extraordinarily-convenient location.”
Baseball Field Construction Tops the List at Babcock Ranch
A fascinating aspect will be the construction of 42 baseball fields, one of the largest such complexes in Florida. John explains while that may seem unusual, it projects to attract roughly 200,000 players annually, along with coaches and families. This will fast forward retail, hotels, and restaurants as well as the residential. Farmers already grow watermelon on 500 acres, while honey bee farmers are on another 10.
John describes Babcock Ranch as “breaking the pattern. Our ancestors believed in something greater than just living; they valued community. This is our goal – to be that place where older people age gracefully in place; where you are not lonely but connected. When I grew up I could name the family in every house all down the street; today you may wave to your nameless neighbors. People yearn for that earlier, simpler, more gracious life.”
Babcock Ranch is a New-Age Town in an Old Natural Setting
When asked the best part of Babcock Ranch, John enthuses that “all the parts are cool and that’s what makes it so cool! You can just live here quietly, start a business or own a restaurant, begin a new life or chapter to your life, have kids or be retirees, all with the most advanced technological infrastructure. Babcock Ranch is a new-age town in an old natural setting, mixing yesterday’s heritage with tomorrow’s innovations. It is livable, flexible, and sustainable.” In analyzing drawbacks, construction will go on for a long time. “Neighbors need to understand there will be dust and workers for the foreseeable future,” he explains.
“When I grew up I could name the family in every house all down the street; today you may wave to your nameless neighbors. People yearn for that earlier, simpler, more gracious life.” – John Hillman
John concludes by describing his vision of Babcock Ranch and the larger issue of sustainability: “Keeping a good thing going for a long, long time in a crazy uncertain world. Energy is just the tip of the iceberg as, to me, social sustainability is just as crucial. My hope for Babcock Ranch is that it becomes a true community of neighbors, where relationships matter more than property values and utility costs, because at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is each other. Social sustainability is of primary importance; that is why in the Triple Bottom Line of Sustainability – People, Place, & Profit – People are always first.”
- All Maps
- Babcock Ranch – Environmental Overview
- Babcock Ranch – Phase 1 Overview
- Babcock Ranch – Residential Real Estate
- Babcock Ranch – Stewardship
- Babcock Ranch – Sustainability
Gary Mooney is a retired local government administrator and a contributing writer for SWFL Sustainability. He has a passion for covering health and sustainability and is a local expert on Zika Virus. You can learn more about Gary online at www.garymooney.net & www.zikavirus.guru and reach Gary at [email protected].