Southwest Florida BUSINESS TODAY
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Photo by Jim Jett Throngs drove in to the opening of Babcock Ranch in March. The community is the ﬁrst new town to achieve a net-zero baseline carbon footprint.
Babcock Ranch innovations will change how Florida grows By Lisa Hall Guest Correspondent
Developer Syd Kitson in 2005 set out to prove that smart growth and preservation could work hand in hand. A year later, he made good on the preservation side of the equation when 73,000 acres of the historic Babcock Ranch was sold to the state in the largest preservation land purchase in Florida history. The economic engine that made the preservation possible—an environmentally friendly new town on the portion of the historic ranch that Kitson retained—took more than a decade to incubate Now, as the new town prepares to welcome its first residents, Babcock Ranch is raising the bar for responsible, forward-thinking and sustainable development and creating a new model for the future. “I believe the approach we are taking to protect the land while sustaining growth can serve as a model for the rest of the state and the nation in the years to come,” Kitson said. “Like any other business, the success or failure of developers ultimately rides on the consumer. If demand is there, others will follow our lead and Babcock Ranch will prove to be a real game-changer.” Kitson has cause for confidence as the first model homes open for viewing in Phase One of the eco-centric, solar powered town located 20 minutes east of Fort Myers off of Florida State Road 31 in Charlotte County. Utility-scale solar power generation is proving to be a powerful draw. Many of the prospective homebuyers putting down deposits and working toward final contracts with homebuilders report they have been keeping an eye on Babcock Ranch for years. Kitson’s planning team got early insights into changing market demands from a series of community planning workshops held back in early 2006. “It’s amazing how much we learned by simply asking, ‘What kind of town would you want to live in?’”, Kitson said. “What we heard over and over again was that people wanted a life similar to what they had growing up, but with all the modern efficiencies and conveniences. And we also discovered a very strong desire to live more responsibly, in harmony with the natural environment.” Responsible development started with the land. The Babcock Ranch site plan puts 90 percent of the new town on previously impacted pasture, farm and rockmined land. If you peel away the master plan at Babcock, what you see is all the areas cleared for pastures and farmlands underneath the planned development, nestled among the areas that will remain forested. Use of resources available right on the property is another part of the sustainability story. On-site mining operations
provide all of the fill and road aggregate. On-site farming will deliver produce— and provide space for community farming plots where residents can grow their own. And sod comes from the community sod farm. To conserve water, Babcock Ranch’s landscaping guidelines limit turf coverage to 30 percent of residential lots and require homeowners to use native, low impact trees and shrubs for 75 percent of their landscaping. All irrigation throughout the community will use reclaimed or “grey water” from the onsite water and wastewater utility. Energy use and production were key to achieving Kitson’s goal of making Babcock Ranch one of the most sustainable new towns in Florida. By partnering with Florida Power & Light to produce renewable energy at a utility scale, Babcock Ranch is the first new town to achieve a baseline carbon footprint of net-zero by ensuring that renewable energy production exceeds total power consumption. “Our work with FPL has enabled us to create something more ambitious and innovative than previously imaginable: a 440-acre plot of land, housing a 74.5-megawatt Solar Energy Center, with more than 350,000 FPL solar panels,” Kitson said. “We’ve achieved our renewable energy goals without any additional cost for homeowners. They will pay the same rates as any other FPL customers, but their net bills will be lower because their energy-efficient homes will be less expensive to run.” FPL flipped the switch on the Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center on January 31, 2016. Technology is another key player in creating an innovative town that is not only smart but also dynamic, becoming even smarter as time goes on. Babcock Ranch will make use of the cost efficiencies and superior services of integrated systems based on new technology. “Delivering better services with lower operating costs is now possible, especially in comparison with mature municipalities that are saddled with obsolete infrastructure and high legacy costs,” Kitson explained. “This opportunity is based on the convergence of a wide range of technologies. For example, a fully integrated conduit system that includes a sewer system, water, gas, power and data can be constructed and maintained at far lower cost than a hodgepodge of unrelated conduits traveling through the same easement—the usual situation in cities whose utilities have been developed over several decades. Kitson added, “I am encouraged by the enthusiasm and dedication of our many partners who share a commitment to responsible growth,” Kitson said. “Together we are creating a prototype for meeting the needs of Florida’s inevitable growth while preserving the unique environment that draws people here in the first place.”
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Published on Mar 30, 2017