3 Jul, 2017
Each June as the hurricane season gets underway, Floridians are reminded that the dream of living close to the coast comes with a certain amount of risk. When storms take aim at Southwest Florida and evacuation orders are issued, residents of Babcock Ranch will find themselves at a distinct advantage.
“Storm safety and resiliency has factored into every element of the design and engineering of our new town,” said Syd Kitson, chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners. “We’ve taken great care to incorporate the latest technologies to keep people truly safe in a storm and allow a quick rebound after a storm passes.”
While located within reach of coastal amenities, Babcock Ranch is on some of the highest ground in the area with elevations as high as 30 feet above sea level – a virtual mountain in South Florida. It would take a category 5 hurricane to push the storm surge up to the southernmost edge of town.
Located off State Road 31, north of the Lee County Civic Center, the solar-powered town being built by Kitson & Partners will eventually be home to 50,000 people living and working in a town of 19,500 homes and apartments and six million square feet of commercial space.
Preparation, mitigation and building codes are the key ingredients of a resilient community. Strong building codes combined with elevated inland location will allow Babcock residents to shelter in their own homes during storms up to a Category 3 hurricane. Commercial and public buildings, built to an even higher standard, will provide shelter during stronger storms.
According to Kitson, the real measure of resiliency is the speed of recovery — how quickly life gets back to normal after the storm passes. At Babcock Ranch, underground conduit of power and fiber-optic cable systems combine with smart-grid technology to minimize service disruptions.
But the centerpiece of the town’s storm resiliency plan is a comprehensive stormwater management system.
“The master plan was designed by taking advantage of the natural systems and drainage flowways that have been weathering storms for years,” explained John Broderick, senior vice president of land development. “We worked with several agencies on different water models that took into account the massive amount of water that can flow onto the property, how to retain it longer, and then get it back off. It’s not just about being more resilient here, but being good neighbors. We are making regional drainage improvements here to help alleviate some of the historic flooding issues for other property owners along State Road 31.”
Bordered by the 73,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve, the new town is rising on a portion of the historic ranch previously cleared for various ranch business operations including rock mining, sod farms, pasture and tenant farming.
Kitson & Partners is restoring natural flowways across the property to both reduce the quantity and improve the quality of water before it flows off the property toward the Caloosahatchee River to the south. Environmental restoration completed to date includes a weir system to rehydrate wetlands previously drained for farming and ranching purposes, and extensive reclamation of mining lakes.
“By grading and stabilizing the banks of the mining lakes, we’re drastically reducing erosion to improve water quality and create much better habitat for fish and wildlife,” Broderick said. “It is really a win-win situation with benefits for man and beast alike. Grading of the shoreline creates a gradual bank for people to get out if they fall in, while providing shoreline shallows that is much better habitat. It’s a much more natural system, and as a result, much more resilient.”
Even the landscaping requirements at Babcock Ranch were developed with storms in mind.
“When properly designed and incorporated into the landscape, native plants reduce storm runoff and flooding, improve surface water quality, require less maintenance, irrigation, fertilization and pesticides, and help conserve energy by providing natural shade and cooling,” Broderick said. “They are also best equipped to stand up to the natural conditions of the area which include not only storms – but fire.”