Builders showed off their new home plans Monday at Syd Kitson’s embryonic Babcock city — plans in some cases as unique to Southwest Florida as the solar field that will power the community straddling Charlotte and Lee Counties.
The five builders who’ve staked a claim to the first 193 home lots had to agree to some features unfamiliar to them; notably, a front porch to connect people to the outdoors and encourage them to socialize.
“There are a lot of successful communities around Florida that have this kind of product,” said Babcock President Rick Severance, who’s a former CEO of one of them, Seaside.
But no one’s tried it in Southwest Florida, builders said.
“I wasn’t a firm believer in the front porch living concept at first,” said Ken Fox, whose company Fox Custom Builders bought 80 lots with some of the development’s most cutting edge plans.
So Fox, who’d had success with another Kitson community, Talis Park in Naples, accompanied the team to Beaufort, South Carolina to see what the front porch design was all about.
“People were sitting on their front porches. Kids were playing,” the builder said. “I was like, ‘This is a fairytale community.’ I fell in love with it.”
Uniquely, Fox is using a green-built shell for his designs that’s tested and assembled by Brian Bishop’s New Panel Homes.
“When you get the envelope right, you’ve done the hard work toward energy performance,” said Bishop, whose team uses software to dial down the home’s energy efficiency rating.
A 2,600 square foot Fox home running ice cold at peak summer temperatures will cost about $1,300 a year to operate, and will be rated 36 percent more efficient than the typical home built to code, he said.
The shell also goes up faster — Bishop estimates seven days for one of Fox’s designs — with 100 insulated, structural panels cut to shape, versus 8,000 parts built of frame and block.
“The Babcock plans are definitely new for us, said Wes Thompson of Homes by Towne, the first to go in with Babcock.
Thompson’s company bought 72 lots and already has four models coming out of the ground ranging from 1,956 to just over 3,000 sq. ft. With a front porch and rear lanai, the homes take advantage of a park in front and Lake Timber in back, bringing the outdoors in at both ends.
“Kitson is kind of a frontiersman. It’s neat being the trailblazers of a new way to live,” Thompson said.
Front porches have been baked into many architectures as a living, socializing and greeting space; from shotgun shacks to antebellum plantations. But it was the traditional, mid-20th Century neighborhoods idealized by Norman Rockwell that inspired Babcock.
“Front porches weren’t our focus before, so it was challenging coming up with plans that are different from what we’re used to,” said Denise Ogden, a sales representative with Florida Lifestyle Homes, known for its work in luxury, custom-built neighborhoods like Naples’ Quail West.
The builder will offer five or six models starting at $500,000, on eight phase one lots, and looks forward to doing more in phase two, Ogden said.
“I think Babcock Ranch is really introducing the front porch design in our area,” said VP of sales Timothy Clark of Stock Development, also building in the $500,000 and up range. “It’s been well received by the people I’ve talked to. I think you might start seeing it in other developments.”