Latest from Clark's Remarks

Fritz Albert (left); Audobon Society
Babcock Ranch
Shared Screenshot Babcock Ranch22

Return to The Solar-Powered Town

Jan. 11, 2022
HURRICANE-TESTED: Babcock Ranch, near devastated Fort Myers FL, never lost power last week. Here's what we wrote about the solar-powered pioneer earlier this year.

In March 2018, I had the pleasure of writing about Babcock Ranch, a new, out-of-the-ground community that billed itself as "the world's first solar-powered town." Although there was initially some controversy about that claim, the description has stuck.

This is the sign (right) that greets you in the Discovery Center, as my wife and I recently learned when we took a Saturday field trip to go back. We wanted to see firsthand what had changed and find out how things were going.

Once again, our host was Lisa Hall, who’s been with the project since developer Syd Kittson, the visionary responsible for Babcock Ranch, first shared that vision with her in 2005. Lisa is now a resident herself. She and her husband bought a home there in February 2020, and she seems to really love it (here she is showing us the entrance to one of the hiking trails).

And Syd Kittson has shown that he walks the walk.

He has a home there and is in residence several days a week. He’s not alone. When we first visited, there were only a handful of residents and today the population is between 5,500 and 6,000. It sounds counterintuitive, but the population of Babcock Ranch doubled during the pandemic!

Lisa shared that they’re estimating the population will grow to 7,500-8,000 by the end of 2022, and when fully built out, it will be a town of 50,000 residents. The demographics indicate that 50% of Babcock Ranch home buyers are families with children; 37% are under 55 years of age; 83% are year-round residents; 74% are college graduates; and 70% have incomes of $100,000 or more.

  • To read the first Clark's Remarks on Babcock Ranch from 2018, click here.

Home sales are, obviously, through the roof, with more than 2,000 closings and another 1,000 or so expected in 2022. In 2020, the town ranked 34th on two major lists of the 50 top-selling master-planned communities in the U.S. Some of the best known home builders are constructing those homes, and three of them – Lennar, Pulte, and DR Horton – are building demonstration homes in the town’s Innovation area that allow them to study new building technologies.

Home prices when we visited three years ago started at $190K and went to $1 million. They haven’t changed much at the low end, starting in the $200Ks, and topping out at more than $1.5 million. The innovations don’t stop with home building. The town has a gigabyte of fiber connectivity for every home and business and various technologies – including drone delivery and robotic trash removal – are being explored.

Even before we arrived at the town center, we saw the first significant change. A new 82,640-sq-ft Publix supermarket, with drive-thru pharmacy, in the Crescent B Commons retail plaza. The shopping center also has a variety of restaurants, and services include an eye doctor, veterinarian, pet groomer and doggy daycare, nail spa, pack and ship station, and more. We were also surprised to see the Babcock National, 18-hole, Gordon Lewis-designed golf course.

Some of the other more significant improvements since our first visit:

  • The FPL solar plant adjacent to the town has doubled its capacity to 150 mW;
  • The health and wellness center, which had just started construction, is now complete and in use. There were kids shooting hoops in the gym, swimmers in the pool, and several people working out in the exercise area. As with the other buildings in Babcock Ranch, it is certified by the Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC);
  • The original Babcock Neighborhood School that served K-6 is now a larger facility serving K-10, and a new high school to serve 9-12 is under construction. The two-story building will be connected to the existing school via a covered walkway and will incorporate 24 classrooms, with specific rooms for media production, science labs, a green room, and a collaboration room. Along with the high school, there will be a new field house (that will also serve as a community center) and multi-purpose fields, a baseball diamond, and a softball field in Jack Peeples Park;
  • There are now full-time HOA and Community Patrol staff, with interim Sheriff and EMS stations completed.

It was remarkable to see how Syd Kitson’s 15-year vision of a high-tech, sustainable town coexisting with preservation has become a reality. We ended our visit with a very nice lunch on the deck of the Lakehouse Kitchen and Bar which, as the name implies, looks out over Babcock Lake. If you have a chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.

For information and directions, go to www.babcockranch.com.

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A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board, the author is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Larry Clark

A member of HPAC Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board, Lawrence (Larry) Clark, QCxP, GGP, LEED AP+, is principal of Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a South Florida-based engineering firm focused on energy and sustainability consulting. He has more than two dozen published articles on HVAC- and energy-related topics to his credit and frequently lectures on green-building best practices, central-energy-plant optimization, and demand-controlled ventilation.