For all five years that he’s lived in Babcock Ranch, Mark Wilkerson has been telling everyone he’ll never lose power in a storm. But when Hurricane Ian slammed into southwestern Florida in September, with its torrential rain and 150 mph winds, Wilkerson felt his conviction waver. Seated at his dining table all alone, he could feel the walls of his house shake under the sheer force of nature. “Today’s the day the power is going to go out,” he thought. And there was nothing he could do but wait.
But the darkness and the cold never came. The lights in his house flickered — but they never went out.
“I lost one shingle on my roof,” Wilkerson told Insider.
Wilkerson is one of about 6,000 residents who live in Babcock Ranch, a solar-powered town in southwest Florida that survived Hurricane Ian with minimal damage.
Ian — the strongest hurricane to hit the state since Michael in 2018 — all but decimated Fort Myers, less than 20 miles away. Photos of the aftermath show entire neighborhoods submerged in water, roads covered in fallen trees, and boats ripped from their docks.
It’s been nearly five months since Ian hit, but the process of rebuilding continues. Recent photographs of Fort Meyers, taken in January by photographer Joe Raedle, show piles of debris, ongoing construction efforts, and people still living in makeshift tent homes.
In contrast, there were only a few fallen trees and some lightly damaged roofs in Babcock Ranch post-Ian. Everything else escaped virtually unscathed.
“We never lost power, water, or internet,” Wilkerson said. “And it’s all by design, we weren’t just lucky.”
Building a solar-powered town in Florida
The origins of Babcock Ranch trace back to 2006, when a football player turned real-estate developer named Syd Kitson bought a 92,000-acre land parcel in Florida for $700 million.
A day after he closed the deal, Kitson sold 74,000 acres to the state for conservation purposes and retained 17,000 acres on which his future town would sit, The New York Times reported in August 2006.
The goal, Kitson told Insider, was to create “the most environmentally responsible, the most resilient new town that’s ever been built.”
“What we wanted to prove was that a new town like Babcock Ranch can work hand in hand with nature,” he added.
Babcock Ranch was built 30 feet above sea level and all power lines are buried underground to keep them safe from strong winds, Kitson said.
Neatly parceled homes and properties branch out from a street that meanders through the neighborhood. Houses range from two- to five-bedroom layouts and come with various levels of customization, including a backyard pool, multiple garages, and an outdoor patio.
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John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: [email protected] or (631) 608-1346.
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Amanda is a journalist at Insider’s Singapore bureau, where she covers real estate and lifestyle. She writes about alternate living, housing trends, and tours of standout properties across the globe.
Previously, she was a writer and video producer at a content marketing agency in Singapore. She graduated from the University at Buffalo with a BA (Hons) in Sociology.