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Houston Speech

Donald J. Bahl gave this speech on the Bahl Cluster Homes. In this speech Donald J. Bahl outlines the benefits of developing and owning a Bahl Cluster Home. This speech was originally given with slides. We left in the references to the slides in the speech below.

(#1 Picture of cover of homebuilders) When Dean Rampson asked me to speak to you today, he said, "Don, there can't be any secrets, don't hold back any of the ingredients, just let it all hand out". Well the first secret I'm going to share is just how we thought of this new land use concept that made us a cover girl.

One hectic Wednesday afternoon I was out of the office attending to those pressing business matters (#2 picture of DJB by creek) that seem to take so much of my time when (#3 Kendle by creek with pinwheel) I saw this little girl playing with a pinwheel. The more I watched her play the more I could see the possibilities of what is called today (#4 floor plan and pinwheel) the pin wheel cluster. As you can see the shape of the building is much like that of the pinwheel.

After almost a year of fighting what many times seemed to be the entire world and receiving for our efforts, not to mention our money, a 4 to 3 vote of denial from the city planning commission, I really began to consider that maybe I should spend more time out of the afternoon sun, and instead stay in the office tending to those pressing business matters.

Builders have been building dwelling units for a long time and I doubt if there is a single idea which has not been tried at one time or another, but basically the dwelling unit was always put in the center of the lot. (#5 Paul Reimer House) This house by the way sits on over 600 areas that the City of Palo Alto just rezoned to a 10 acre minimum lot size. How's that for density? (#6 Los Altos Colonial) as the cities developed and the lots became smaller the house was still in the center of the lot with plenty of room all around. (#7 Shady springs - Los Altos) but as the cost of land continued to increase the size of the lot continued to decrease but one thing never changed...

The house was always in the center of the lot. And while the houses and the lots were becoming smaller the books of rules and regulations telling you just how you were going to keep that house in the center of the lot were becoming larger and larger. (#8 Rules and regulations) Rules and Regulations... you know what those are. They all say something like this... If what you want to do makes good sense, will cost less money, and is better that the way it is being done now... then quite obviously its against the rules and you can't do it. Since all of these rules and regulations were based on the idea that a house should be in the center of the lot, it isn't too surprising to find that as the age of the planned unit development dawned most of the projects approved weren't too much different from what had been built and those who tried to present new ideas received this unhappy response (#9 letter of denial) well what is this thing called a pin wheel? You have to have a piece of land before you can build anything so lets start with the site.

(#10 site and three streets) The original site was a 6 1/2 acre parcel bounded on three sides by public streets. The street at the bottom of the picture is a 120'0" wide street and carries 32,000 cars a day. How's that for a nice quiet residential street. I tried to find a piece of land against the freeway but I couldn't. It seemed those choice locations were being reserved for apartments (#11 street pattern) We selected a street pattern using a one-way horseshoe shaped private street that is thirty feet wide. The moving lane is twenty feet wide with eight feet for guest parking spaces. The distance between streets is 97'-0". While these are private streets and therefore commonly owned and maintained by the homes association they are named and appear on the City street maps. The last street on the right of the picture was required to be a public street... I've always felt the only reason the City wanted that as a public street was that considered this whole idea as some type of disease and if they isolated us with public streets they would keep us from infecting the other pieces of land around us.

There are four units to a cluster. Each is a two story single family dwelling with attached or detached garages and a private fenced yard. (#12 plan 1) Plan one is a three bedroom, two and one half bath home with a detached two car garage. All of the yard space shown is private yard space. This is true of all plans. This home is currently selling for $34, 950.00. It has 1,525 square feet so it is selling for $22.91 per square foot. Compared this to a single family home selling at $40,000.00 which would break down to $26.22 per square foot. (#13 plan 2) Plan two is a 2 bedroom one and a half bath home with an attached single car garage. In addition to the enclosed garage space, all plans have a private two car driveway. This plan has 1163 square feet selling for $30, 950.00 or $26.61 per square foot. (#14 plan 3) Plan 3 is a three bedroom two and one half bath plan with a detached two car garage. You notice that we are showing a swimming pool in both this plan and the previous Plan 2. These private yards are large enough for pools and we have built tw3o pools in the model complex to demonstrate this point. Plan 3 has 1,529 square feet selling for $35,950 or $23.51 per square foot. (#15 Plan 4) Plan 4 has three bedrooms and two and one half baths with an attached one car garage. It has 1,480 square feet and is selling for $33,950 or $23.93 per square foot. (#16 a complete cluster) We decided to present four models but the concept works as well with only one floor plan. The units are set at a 45 degree angle to the private street and each unit has two attached walls.

So lets put a cluster together. (#17 Run through the four pictures showing how this is done) (Take some time here to point out relationships of yards ects.) Now to some of you, I'm sure, that what you see on the screen is a four plex. It has four units right? but if you, like we, are looking for new land use concepts that will meet tomorrows housing needs, then we need to break with today's terms and most importantly of all... the rules and regulations that have been married to today's housing. If you have a new idea... be convinced... create new words and definitions. So what you see here is not a four plex, it's a pinwheel cluster. As you can see each unit faces the street which allows an owner to drive directly to his unit and park either in the driveway or the garage.

( #18 girl ad) This is one of the ads we run stressing this point. Notice that the lady is driving some type of sporty car and lives in an obviously large apartment complex. We are posing a problem both with the picture and the copy and also saying we have a solution. What's more fun that carrying groceries up to your apartment? Just about anything. SO escape to a private world of European architecture, elegant interiors and attached garages. The enclosed and convenient garage is a big feature with us. (#19 Shot of four units) By having the homes facing a named street each can be assigned it's own street address. So what? Everyone has an address... that's true but there are addresses and addresses.

Remember our friends with the rules and regulations. An apartment has a single street address, say 100 luxury land apartments 1 through 500. And so you have those endless rows of mailboxes because you have only one street address. Since each one of our units has frontage on a named street and has a number on that street, we have mail delivered to each unit just like a single family detached home. We are also able to get individual trash collection. No more long walks to the trash bin. (#20 mail box ad) This is an ad again suggesting a solution to the problems shown in the ad. While we were at it we thought we would take a swipe at the rules of the house too. No rules. No crowds. No leftovers in your mailbox. Get yourself some privacy. Escape to Bahl Patio Homes. Continental life style. Private and very very practical. With this type of street pattern and land use concept a stranger can actually find a unit without knowing were it is. Some rain night go to an apartment complex and try to find a particular apartment. And remember you are the equivalent to a graduate student in the world of building. Just think what it is like for a high school dropout.

(#26 four units) While there are four units sharing a common building each has complete separation. We feel you should meet your neighbor by your own design, not the design of the architect. Notice that a person who lives in the gray unit is not going to bump into his neighbor in the pink unit when he tries to sneak out to get the morning paper. In fact they can come and go and see less of each other than in a detached single family home. Mr. Gray's other neighbor miss green lives on a completely different street. So when she decides to play her organ at 2 am. He has a cooling off period while he walks around the block to pound on her door. What's that you say... you don't have sound problems in your units? You must have not slept here at the Regency Hyatt last night.

Gentlemen, I want to introduce you to my sound engineers. (#22 carpenter) There is no such thing as a soundproof wall as built in the field. These fellows are not as dumb as they look after all you are paying them $18,000 a year. They have figured out a way to lower the sound transmission class of every wall designed.

(#23 close shot of four units) We approached the problem first by design. The living areas are separate from the same areas of the unit next door. The two story entry and stairwell is adjacent to the living area of the next unit. So what we have created is a buffer of nonliving space against living areas. (#24 plan1) You can see the kitchen is on an outside wall along with those whisper quiet disposals and dishwashers. If you ever find one of those let me know. All of the bathroom plumbing is on an inside wall and not a shared wall. Each unit has its own separate sewer lateral and water meter. This means each person pays for the water he actually uses.

(#25 Dells shot of 9 & 10) Since the units are set at a 45 degree angle to the street you avoid the flat front elevation look and instead get lots of corners and shadow lines. (#26 Dells shot of lot 2 plan) The feeling of detachment and openness is greatly increased since yard space adjoins yard space and as you look out of the windows you see open sky... not the unit behind you.

(#27 Dells picture of Lot 10) We call this combination of yard space and living area a patio home. Since the feeling from inside the unit is one of complete indoor outdoor living. Our yards are completely enclosed with either a seven foot stucco wall or a six foot wood fence. (#28 Dells shot of lot 5 yard) We feel that a little yard like a little love surely helps. This yard you are looking at has 1,218 square feet. Lets look for a moment at our old friend the 6,000 square foot, God rest his soul. (#29 6,000 square foot lot) The way we analyze yard space is this. The front yard is a privately maintained public park for other people to enjoy as they drive down the street... but does the owner get to use it??? When is the last time you saw anyone in their front yard... except as a gardener. The side yard is the way you get from the front yard to the back yard and is also the place my neighbor dumps his grass clippings. The back yard is really the only yard the owner can use for his private enjoyment. How big is this back yard? Sixty by twenty. That's 1,200 square feet. How big is a pinwheel cluster yard? 1,218 square feet. Hmmm

The best yield you can get from an acre of land with 6,000 square foot lots is five lots to the acre. The density of a pinwheel cluster is 13 lots to the acre. Two and one half times as many lots and yet the private yard space is the same. (#30 picture of Dells lot 9) So anything you can do in the back yard of a standard tract house you can do in a pin wheel cluster. A private pool, a Sunday barbecue, a private place in the sun.

(#31 picture of St. Bernard) Love me... love my dog??? How about man's best friend.. You remember this little fellow from the last time you walked through any park. How many animals have you seen who can operate a flush toilet?... or enjoy being locked up inside all day. Once this fellow gets unhappy, your sound walls really get a workout.

(#32 shot of lot 9 from kitchen patio) In the pinwheel concept, we have traded private yards, garages, driveways and private open areas for the common pool, club house and common areas. For this reason, we have a very limited homes association. The monthly assessment is $15.50 per month and provides cable TV, private street maintenance, care and maintenance of the landscaping adjacent to the streets. Each owner is responsible for his own exterior maintenance.

(#33 picture of record map) The record map looks like an engineers nightmare but it is really just like a conventional subdivision. Each owner receives title to the land in fee simple for his lot and the private streets are deeded to the homes association. (#34 shot of Dells bottom floor) Whose is buying these units... What does out buyer profile look like... Our average buyer is a young married couple with no children, both have college degrees. Drive either a foreign car or an American sports car. Are dressed in the latest fashion... and were living in an apartment within a 3 mile radius and paying in excess of $250 a month rent. Average family income is $27,180 a year. We offer 5% down conventional MGIC insured loans, for while they have large family income, they spend it all and haven't large amounts of cash available for a down payment.

(#35 shot of new site plan) What about the future? We learn from our mistakes... I don't know about you but I never make mistakes however... there are certain refinements we are making. We have made all of our garages two car garages and increased the length of the driveways. Our buyers don't want that garage for their car, they want it for storage. We have changed the lots so that any plan will fit any lot which will increase our ability to change the mixture of units after the map is recorded. We have learned some new terms. We know that a fourplex is also a quad or cluster, a triplex is a triplet, a duplex is a duo or twin... well here is the rear elevation of some twins I have been working on (#37 shot of rear) and if you can improve on these front elevations (#38 shot of front) let me know