When a 91,000-acre piece of vacant land came up for sale in Southwest Florida about ten years ago, it attracted builders from across the country. After all, the chance to develop an area almost five times the size of Manhattan does not come frequently. But to everyone’s surprise, the owners did not auction the property that lies just 20 minutes from Fort Myers to the highest bidder. Instead, they sold it to Palm Beach-based Kitson & Partners who not only promised to preserve a bulk of the land, but also use the remaining acreage to build an environmentally friendly town.
True to their word, as soon as the sale closed, the developers parceled off 73,000 acres and sold it to the government of Florida as part of the largest single land preservation agreement in the state’s history. Over the last decade, the state and county officials have worked hard at restoring the wetlands and other waterways in what is now known as the Babcock Nature Preserve. Their efforts have resulted in the return of many native birds and plants that had disappeared from the region.
However, a decline in the real-estate market forced Kitson & Partners to postpone their vision of creating an environmentally friendly town until recently. While site preparations began in November 2015, it was not until Earth Day 2016 (April 22) that the developers finally revealed their plans for America’s first “green” community.
On the surface, Babcock Ranch, which will be home to about 50,000 residents when complete, appears to be just like a typical small American town. It will have a bustling downtown, hiking trails, a wellness center, and even a man-made lake that residents can use for recreational activities like kayaking. However, this is where the similarities end.
Unlike most American cities, the homes in Babcock Ranch will not be powered by polluting fossil fuels like coal or oil. Instead, the residents will get their energy from a massive solar farm that is being constructed in partnership with Florida Power and Light. On cloudy days or at night, the grid powered by clean natural gas will take over. According to Kitson, “The combination of energy will be the greenest in the country."
All homes and businesses will also have built-in Greywater recycling. This means gently used water from sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines will be kept separate from the sewer system and automatically redirected to gardens and lawns. Tele-healthy systems will enable residents to get treated for minor medical issues without leaving the comfort of their homes. The houses will also be equipped with shelters where residents can take refuge during hurricanes.
To reduce the use of polluting gas vehicles, the homes will be clustered close to the town’s center. Pedestrian and bike-friendly streets will ensure that residents can walk or ride bikes to run errands or commute to work. For those that need to go further out, the developers envision a public transportation system that uses on-demand driverless electric cars.
The developers hope that Babcock Ranch will attract a diverse group of environmentally-friendly residents who are all passionate about reducing their ecological footprint. To accomplish this, they plan to offer a variety of housing options ranging from condominiums that cost about $200,000 USD to million-dollar single-family homes.
Kitson & Partners plans to begin construction of the first phase of 1,100 homes this summer. Once that is complete, the developers will start work on the shops, cafes, school, and office buildings that will populate the downtown area. If everything goes according to schedule, America’s greenest town will be ready to welcome its first residents in early 2017!