Babcock Ranch, Florida

Babcock Ranch is a planned community located in southeastern Charlotte County and northeastern Lee County, Florida, consisting of approximately 17,000 acres (6,900 ha).[2] The community was named after Edward Vose Babcock, a lumber baron and former mayor of Pittsburgh, who purchased the land in 1914. The planned community was approved as part of a public-private partnership with the State of Florida and local governments. The deal established the neighboring Babcock Ranch Preserve.[3] Construction on the Ranch began in 2016 and opened in 2018 as America’s first solar town.

Babcock Ranch
Official logo of Babcock Ranch
Babcock Ranch is located in Florida
Babcock Ranch
Babcock Ranch
Location within the state of Florida
Coordinates: 26°52′28″N 81°43′08″W / 26.87444°N 81.71889°W / 26.87444; -81.71889[1]
CountryUnited States
CountiesCharlotte, Lee
 • Total27 sq mi (69 km2)
Elevation33 ft (10 m)
Time zoneUTC−05:00 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC−04:00 (EDT)
ZIP codes
33917, 33982
Area codes239, 941
GNIS feature ID278018[1]

History edit

Origins edit

Occupying land in both Charlotte and Lee counties near Fort Myers, Babcock Ranch was named after Edward Vose Babcock, a lumber baron[4] and mayor of Pittsburgh (1918–1922), who purchased the land in 1914.[3] The land's primary use was logging and agriculture,[4] and those uses continue to generate funds for the maintenance and operation of the Babcock Ranch Preserve. The Babcock Ranch Preserve Act enacted by the Florida Legislature in 2006 made it the first Florida preserve responsible for generating its funding under a public-private management partnership that includes the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Forest Service.[5]

In 2009, Kitson & Partners, a real estate development firm joined with Florida Power & Light to announce plans to make Babcock Ranch the first solar-powered city in the United States.[6] A large photovoltaic power station[7] and a network of rooftop solar panels on commercial buildings, planned to be expanded over time, are intended to send more renewable power into the Florida electrical grid than the city consumes.[8]

State ownership edit

In the late 1990s, the Babcock family sought to sell the ranch to the state of Florida. The property was considered a priority for purchase by conservation leaders who saw it as the final section needed to establish an environmental corridor stretching from Lake Okeechobee in the center of Florida to the Charlotte Harbor Estuary on Florida's Gulf Coast.[9]

The state offered $455 million for 91,000 acres (37,000 ha) in 2005,[3] but negotiations broke down over the structure of the transaction and tax issues. A sale of the real estate would have triggered significant tax liabilities that could have been avoided if ownership had ben transferred through the sale of all corporate stock. The state was barred from meeting the family's terms by a provision in the state constitution prohibiting the use of land acquisition funds for the purchase of a private company's stock.[4]

Florida real estate development firm Kitson & Partners, led by former professional American football player Syd Kitson, signed a contract for the purchase of the Babcock Florida Company, including the ranch, in July 2005[10] and laid out a plan to sell over 74,000 acres (30,000 ha)[3] to the State of Florida for the preservation of the most environmentally sensitive areas.[11] The contract was contingent on a series of local and state approvals for development on the property to be retained by Kitson & Partners and a land management agreement that would provide for continued ranching operations and employment of the ranch staff under state ownership.[4][10] Purchase from the family and sale of the preserve lands to the State of Florida and Lee County closed on July 31, 2006.[3][4]

As part of the arrangement, Kitson & Partners received $350 million for the land, with approximately $310 million provided in the final budget of Governor Jeb Bush and $40 million from Lee County, Florida.[12] According to Time, the purchase was the "largest preservation buy in Florida history".[11]

Development edit

The center of the planned urban development is about ten miles south-southwest of the former Babcock family home and barns. Plans for the proposed city of Babcock Ranch were developed with public participation through a series of meetings held in Charlotte County in early 2006 and formally announced with the first application for development approvals.[13][14]

Designed as a magnet for high-tech companies and a research and development hub for clean energy, Babcock Ranch was planned to be self-contained with four villages and five hamlets. The plan included a total of 20,000 permanent jobs to sustain up to 50,000 residents in 19,000 households[15] and 5,000,000 square feet (460,000 m2) of light industry, retail, commerce, offices, and civic space.[16] The downtown area was designed to be walkable and bikeable and will include 8,000 homes as well as offices, business parks, a hospital care center, shopping, restaurants, entertainment, and lodges.[17] Construction started in November 2015, and the beginning of construction was celebrated on Earth Day 2016.[18][19]

Babcock Ranch will have eight magnet schools administered by Charlotte County Public Schools.[citation needed] The elementary schools will be near the center of each village, and the high school will be accessible by bike trails.[citation needed] In addition, Florida Gulf Coast University plans to build a satellite campus in Babcock Ranch.[20] All commercial buildings and homes in Babcock Ranch must be certified as energy-efficient and constructed according to Florida Green Building Coalition standards.[21] Some homes will be constructed using insulated panel design.[22]

Babcock Ranch was designed as "Florida's first storm-proof town" capable of withstanding hurricane force winds and rain. It sustained a hit from Hurricane Ian in 2022 with minimal wind damage or flooding, and the community never lost power.[23][24][25]

Infrastructure edit

Plans are for Babcock Ranch to have an interconnected system of computer networks utilizing the IBM Rational Focal Point software running all city services from transport to energy to communications, and also linking up to local businesses;[26] Babcock Ranch will be added to IBM's list of the world's "smarter cities".[7] According to Smart Planet, wireless Internet connectivity will cover the whole of Babcock Ranch city.[16][18][19]

An on-site 75-megawatt solar photovoltaic array broke ground in 2016[6] by Florida Power & Light Company,[21] which will combine with a network of solar rooftop arrays on commercial buildings[16] to generate more energy than the city consumes,[8] making Babcock Ranch the first solar-powered city in the United States.[27]

According to Florida Power & Light chief development officer Eric Silagy, the photovoltaic solar plant to be built at Babcock Ranch[21] will occupy rooftops throughout the city plus 400 acres (160 ha) of land.[11][16] Babcock Ranch's solar power plant will connect to the main grid so a consistent energy supply can be maintained by importing power on overcast days and exporting it on sunny days.[16] The objective of using a solar generator to power the city is a reduction in carbon emissions and dependence on oil, and to lower energy bills for residents, aided by proposed "smart home" energy efficiency technology.[11] Residents and businesses will utilize smart grid technology to monitor and control their energy consumption.[11]

In November 2023, Tampa General Hospital announced a partnership to expand into Babcock Ranch.[28]

Nature preserve edit

Approximately ninety percent of Babcock Ranch's total land will remain undeveloped, including more than half of the area owned by developers Kitson & Partners, to be preserved as open space, nature reserves, or for agricultural use.[4][21] The Babcock Ranch Preserve, which includes land owned by the State of Florida and by Lee County, covers eighty percent of the ranch's original approximately 91,000 acres (37,000 ha). The preserve is self-funding, with all operations supported by revenue from the publicly owned working ranch, the first and only of its type in Florida.[4] The preserve was managed by Kitson & Partners until 2016, when a non-profit entity with board members appointed by the state took over.[3] The state plans to continue business enterprises to maintain the publicly owned land as a nature reserve with accommodations for recreation, including hunting, camping, and hiking.[21]

References edit

  1. ^ a b c "Babcock Ranch". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior. October 19, 1979. Retrieved February 8, 2019.
  2. ^ Rascoe, Ayesha (April 9, 2009). "Florida to get first solar-powered city". Reuters. Retrieved October 1, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Bernstein, Fred A. (July 30, 2006). "Betting the Ranch in Southwest Florida". The New York Times. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Parker, Betty (February 1, 2008). "Big Deal". Gulfshore Life. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  5. ^ "Gov. Bush Signs Bill to Purchase Babcock Ranch". US States News. June 19, 2006.
  6. ^ a b Bishop, Pete (April 9, 2009). "Babcock Ranch to be United States first solar powered city". Naples Daily News. Archived from the original on November 2, 2009. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  7. ^ a b Salman, Josh (June 8, 2010). "Babcock partners with IBM". The Charlotte Sun.
  8. ^ a b "Babcock Ranch Holds an Event to Announce New Investments in Renewable Energy, Energy Transmission, and Sustainable Construction". Financial Markets Regulation Wire. April 9, 2009.
  9. ^ Fullerton, Wendy (April 7, 2005). "State boosts offer, sets deal deadline; One option raises development fears". The News-Press.
  10. ^ a b Martin, Greg (July 23, 2005). "Once in a lifetime opportunity". The Charlotte Sun.
  11. ^ a b c d e Grunwald, Michael (April 9, 2009). "A Solar-Powered Solution to Florida Sprawl". TIME. Archived from the original on October 14, 2010. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  12. ^ Parker, Betty (February 2, 2006). "Jeb puts $310 M in pot for Babcock". The News Press.
  13. ^ Martin, Greg (January 26, 2006). "Developer begins workshops on new city". The Charlotte Sun.
  14. ^ "Babcock blueprint is 90 percent green". Fort Myers News-Press. March 15, 2006.
  15. ^ Lubbes, Sara (June 14, 2006). "Babcock developer wants to add units". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved June 14, 2006.
  16. ^ a b c d e Nusca, Andrew (June 7, 2010). "Babcock Ranch, Florida: Can America's first sustainable city scale?". CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on October 13, 2010. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  17. ^ "Kitson Shares Detailed Plan for Babcock Ranch" (PDF) (Press release). Kitson & Partners. March 14, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 7, 2011. Retrieved December 3, 2010.
  18. ^ a b Bandell, Brian (September 16, 2011). "Photo Gallery: Kitson buys loan on Babcock Ranch at $51.8M discount". South Florida Business Journal. Retrieved December 20, 2023.
  19. ^ a b "Legislators again reject renewable energy plan". The Miami Herald. April 26, 2011. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  20. ^ Hiraki, Ryan (February 18, 2007). "From June 24, 2007: Builders map out Babcock town". The News-Press. Archived from the original on September 9, 2012.
  21. ^ a b c d e Lubbes, Sara (June 14, 2006). "Babcock developer wants to add units". Herald Tribune. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  22. ^ "Building Green". Fox Premier Builders. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  23. ^ "Babcock Ranch: Florida's first hurricane-proof town". BBC News. Retrieved November 30, 2023.
  24. ^ "One Florida community built to weather hurricanes endured Ian with barely a scratch". October 5, 2022. Retrieved December 30, 2023.
  25. ^ "Hurricane Ian wiped out homes and power systems across Florida — so how did this small town escape mostly unscathed?". Yahoo News. October 18, 2023. Retrieved February 20, 2024.
  26. ^ Hicks, Robin (August 24, 2010). "The world's most sustainable city?". FutureGov Asia Pacific. Archived from the original on October 11, 2010. Retrieved September 29, 2010.
  27. ^ "Solar-Powered City in Florida". HuffPost. April 10, 2009. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  28. ^ Kritzer, Ashley Gurbal (November 30, 2023). "Tampa General Hospital expands to Babcock Ranch". Retrieved November 30, 2023.

External links edit