Babcock Ranch Telegraph

Babcock’s core initiatives continue to guide town’s growth



The town of Babcock Ranch is on track to reach a total population of some 50,000 people. RICHARD KINLEY / COURTESY PHOTO

The town of Babcock Ranch is on track to reach a total population of some 50,000 people. RICHARD KINLEY / COURTESY PHOTO

With its balmy winters and year-round outdoor opportunities, Southwest Florida is a popular draw for countless Americans looking for a new place to call home.

Babcock Ranch is unique among its surrounding cities, such as Punta Gorda and Fort Myers, because of its dedication to the environment and other key factors that were built in to Babcock in every aspect of its creation, in its utilities and streets, parks, schools and homes alike.

After welcoming its first residents in January 2018, Babcock Ranch is now home to more than 500 families and on track to reach a total population of some 50,000 people in less than a few decades.

As a town built from scratch, its growth is guided by eight core initiatives by which Kitson & Partners and its president and CEO Syd Kitson seek to lead: the environment, health and wellness, education, energy, technology, transportation, storm safety, and fun.

Here’s a look at how each principle has been integrated in to the town.

Syd Kitson, Kitson & Partners president and CEO, at the 75-megawatt FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center that was completed in 2016. VANDY MAJOR / BABCOCK RANCH TELEGRAPH

Syd Kitson, Kitson & Partners president and CEO, at the 75-megawatt FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center that was completed in 2016. VANDY MAJOR / BABCOCK RANCH TELEGRAPH

The environment

The environment is the one from which the others flow. The 73,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve sold to Florida in perpetuity sits next to the town itself, whose 18,000 acres retained by Kitson are being built out with half of its footprint dedicated to green spaces, lakes and trails interwoven with neighborhoods. Planners designed the town around natural flow ways and sought to build on areas that had already been impacted by mining and agriculture, leaving more pristine natural areas intact.

Babcock’s other arguably most famous factor is FPL’s vast solar arrays designed to generate more energy than the town uses up. That and other features, from community gardens to the use of reclaimed and recycled water for irrigation, are aimed at making it “the most sustainable new town that has ever been developed,” Mr. Kitson says. “Everything we do here we think about the environment and how to treat it in a respectful way. And we’re very proud of that.”

The 75-megawatt FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center. VANDY MAJOR / BABCOCK RANCH TELEGRAPH

The 75-megawatt FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center. VANDY MAJOR / BABCOCK RANCH TELEGRAPH

Health and wellness

Babcock Ranch has a holistic approach to health, taking in to account the land as well as personal social, educational, spiritual and nutritional fitness that run through all eight initiatives. The centerpiece of this initiative is Lee Health and the Healthy Life Center, a facility with family doctors and medical offices as well as a full gym and fitness complex that offers numerous courses and programs for residents to get on a path to healthy living.

Education was built into the town’s conception as a home for young professionals, families and retirees alike.

“We want to be multi-generational,” Mr. Kitson says. “And you can’t be multi-generational without great schools.”

Babcock Neighborhood School offers students in grades K-8 a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math) curriculum that is place-based, with children learning lessons from the landscape, be it via a short stroll to the preserve and community gardens or a field trip to the nearby solar array.

Fun is one of the fundamental core initiatives of importance at Babcock Ranch, which offers activities including fishing, biking and kayaking. BABCOCK RANCH TELEGRAPH PHOTOS

Fun is one of the fundamental core initiatives of importance at Babcock Ranch, which offers activities including fishing, biking and kayaking. BABCOCK RANCH TELEGRAPH PHOTOS

The town also has a pre-school, Bloom Academy. And by next year, ninth-grade high school students will be a part of the mix as well.

Energy

Energy at Babcock Ranch is all about sunshine. The town partnered with Florida Power

& Light to build the 75-megawatt FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center that was completed in 2016. A state-of-the-art battery storage facility was added in 2018, and FPL recently added another 75 megawatt, doubling the amount of solar energy flowing from the solar fields located at the north end of town. Residents pay the same rates as any FPL customer, but the town’s green-building requirements help keep total energy costs below average. All homes are built to the Florida Green Building Coalition’s Bronze Star or higher designation.

“To be sustainable you have to have the right energy source,” Mr. Kitson says. “We’re the only solar-powered town in America, and we’re really, really proud of that.”

Technology

Technology is woven throughout Babcock as well. A partnership with CenturyLink provides one-gigabyte fiber internet as a baseline for any home and business. Communitywide Wi-Fi also helps keep things running smoothly, staying ahead of a future in which residents and businesses will increasingly need to simultaneously download and run multiple applications, appliances, movies and games without missing a beat.

Transportation

Transportation initiatives are built into the city streets, a bike-share program and a grow- ing trail system. You’ll also find it in Babcock’s efforts to bring autonomous vehicles to the city. Future plans include on-demand services, hourly and daily car rentals, and rideshare services. In addition, a comprehensive town app now under development will allow residents to integrate “everything Babcock” in a single platform – from hailing a ride or ordering dinner for delivery to making reservations, navigating trails or paying utilities.

“Autonomous cars are going to be all over the world in 10 years, and we want to be on top of that and be leaders in that field,” Mr. Kitson says. “I think it’s safer than having somebody else drive me. So yes, I feel very safe (in an autonomous vehicle) and think that over time when people get used to it and/or the technology continues to improve we will have a safer society. I don’t think there’s any question.”

Storm safety

While the Sunshine State’s weather and environment remain the key draw, storm safety is also at times a concern. Scientists warn that sea-level rise could exacerbate storm surge from hurricanes and cause increased flooding throughout the year in coastal and low-lying areas. Storm threat is one of the key initiatives that Babcock planners considered from the beginning.

“Babcock Ranch is 30 feet above sea level. Our homes are safe from the storm surge,” Mr. Kitson says. “It makes sense to be building homes on higher ground. We think it’s very, very important for people to feel safe and feel like they can for the most part shelter at home during a storm. We stay out of the wetlands and out of the flood zones.”

Fun

The social fabric of the town is made up of growing traditions and whatever people gravitate toward. Downtown Founder’s Square features a bandshell, boardwalk, splash pad and plenty of open space — a popular place for kids to gather after school for fishing and other fun. A new playground and picnic pavilion with fireplace recently opened at Jack Peeples Park, and expansion of the town’s network of trails is ongoing.

Adding to the Square Scoops ice cream shop and Slater’s Goods & Provisions in Founder’s Square, a new full-scale chain grocery store and plaza is coming next year. Publix will anchor Crescent B Commons, a shopping center being constructed about a mile south of the existing entrance on Babcock Ranch Road/ State Road 31. The site will also offer an autonomous vehicle pickup and drop off area.

“Crescent B Commons will align with Babcock Ranch’s design style and offer shoppers two unique, distinct outdoor seating areas to enjoy the area’s natural beauty,” says Tom Hoban, president and chief investment officer of Kitson & Partners.

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