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Ranch Roundup

Developer Syd Kitson will deveop only 11,000 of the 17,808 acres he keeps.
After years of negotiations among state and local officials, environmentalists and a host of developers who sought to buy the 91,356-acre Babcock Ranch in Lee and Charlotte counties, the future of the property is taking shape:

? West Palm Beach-based Kitson & Partners, which purchased the family-owned corporation that owned the property, will sell 80% of the ranch, 73,548 acres, to the state and Lee County for $350 million. The state is using general revenue money to pay for the parcel, and won't tap Florida Forever funds. Ranch operations will continue under a public-private partnership arrangement, with the bulk of the acreage open to the public for recreational uses.

? Kitson will develop only 11,000 of the 17,808 acres he keeps, leaving some 6,800 as green space. Plans call for a mixed-used development that includes 19,500 homes on 27 square miles in the southwest corner, about four miles off I-75 and eight miles from downtown Fort Myers. The community will contain a downtown area and a series of villages and hamlets separated by green space. Six million square feet of commercial space is also planned. Construction is not expected to begin for at least two years.

Syd Kitson, whose investment partners include Morgan Stanley and the State of Washington Pension Fund, says homes will range from $250,000 to $600,000, and he intends to keep at least 10% of the housing within the reach of a teacher's salary. Buildings will feature "smart'' technology and conform to standards established by the Green Building Council.

Conservationist Liz Donnelly says it's "fair to say everybody's happy we're getting the 73,000 acres" set aside. The ranch management scheme is also appealing, says David Anderson, executive director of Audubon of Florida.

Kitson won't reveal how much he paid for the property, saying the deal "will give our investors a good solid return over many years, and that's why they like it."