Don Knapp
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An example of system planning and sustainability
By Don Knapp,
Executive Director, The Honeywell Foundation, Inc. 1970-1996


Since the late 1970's, The Honeywell Foundation, Inc. has been transforming the Honeywell Gardens, the former country estate of Mark C. Honeywell, co-founder of what is today Honeywell International, into a planned community with clustered housing surrounded by an award-winning public golf course in Wabash County, 90 miles north of Indianapolis in Indiana.

The development is an example of system planning and sustainability. Systems thinking holds that complex projects should be planned and managed not as a collection of separate parts but as an integrated, holistic system of parts that interact with each other and their environment.

Systems thinking is also a fundamental of sustainability, the balancing of economic, environmental and human needs - the most important principle of the 21 st Century.

A Wabash, Indiana native, Mark Honeywell (1874-1960) built a small plumbing and heating business into Honeywell Heating Specialties. HHS and its competitor, Minneapolis Heat Regulator, had patents that blocked their growth so they merged in 1927, becoming Minneapolis Honeywell, then Honeywell and today Honeywell International.

The industrialist was a builder with a keen eye for design. While his company flourished, he commissioned a number of creative private projects including a harbor and structures on his Boca Chita island in the Florida Keys and his Honeywell Gardens with a rustic film studio, a cottage patterned after Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables, a stone cabin, landscaped gardens, an orchard and farm two miles north of downtown Wabash. During World War II the property went to seed. Before he died in 1960, Mr. Honeywell donated the film studio to the Wabash Country Club for a clubhouse and the remainder of the property to The Honeywell Foundation, Inc., which he had established as a charitable corporation in 1941.

Charitable foundations are sometimes recipients of donated private property that prove difficult to manage for public purposes. At a Council on Foundations conference years ago, an official of one family foundation told me it had just received a donation of the family mansion. I asked him what they were going to do with it. He said: "I have no idea."

Mr. Honeywell had established the Foundation with an endowment to build and operate the unique, three-story Honeywell Center in downtown Wabash to serve the state of Indiana . Built in the forties and fifties, this Art deco gem had an auditorium for performing arts and sports, roller skating rink and conference and dining rooms that attracted nearly 200,000 users annually. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

The Honeywell Gardens was something else. After operating it without admission with a skelton staff for a number of years and knowing a small, out-of-the-way arboretum surrounded by farms had trouble attracting visitors, the Foundation Board determined it was not cost- effective at $100,000 a year and closed it in 1975. The question was what to do with the property. Kim Clark would later tell his fellow Board members that we needed to “maximize the asset" that was the Honeywell Gardens.

System planning begins with input from a project's stakeholders. The Foundation was the primary stakeholder. It's President, Tom McSadden, a golfer and Country Club member, proposed adding nine more holes to the Club nine. Influenced by conservationist William H. Whyte (Cluster Development) and the Urban Land Institute, I proposed turning the property into a planned unit development or PUD that clusters development (in this case housing) and preserves open space (a golf course). Clustered housing reduces infrastructure runs and makes mail, school bus and other service routes more economical. It also takes less farmland out of production than one-acre home sites on county roads.

We began planning a housing development surrounded by a nine hole public golf course that coordinated with the Country Club nine.

Other stakeholders included the Country Club, a local public golf course association, the Wabash Economic Development Corporation (WEDCOR) that believed the project would attract local executives and professionals who lived outside of Wabash County because of it's limited housing opportunities, and a “Save the Gardens committee" that sued the Foundation to stop the project.

The Foundation hired Landplus West, a Yorktown , IN land planning and landscape architecture firm, to produce a master plan for the development and golf course architect Arthur Hills of Toledo , O to design the new nine holes.

A model for land planners is the pioneering work of Ian McHarg (Design With Nature) who said:
“Nature is a single interacting system and changes to any part will affect the operation of the whole."

McHarg studied the existing conditions (slope, vegetation, soil, water, structures etc.) of every parcel of a site, then used overlays to produce a composite to dictate the best uses for each parcel.

Deane Rundell, a founder of Rundell Ernstberger, Muncie , IN , worked on the Gardens master plan for Landplus West. He told me:
“The clarity of what McHarg called the overlay system was very visual for people. They could actually see what you were talking about when you're talking systems. We've used that theory to get clients to understand how you're making decisions. So many times clients think you're making a decision kind of in a vacuum, just because you want to make one. But, it's a great way to show people how you get from one place to another. As a communication tool it's great.“ 

The planners studied the existing conditions and produced a composite listing opportunities and constraints. The lawsuit by the Save the Gardens committee was dismissed by the Wabash County Circuit Court. Though there were no sewer and water mains to the site and no developer interest in the housing, the Foundation Board decided to build the new, public Honeywell Golf Course under a now-repealed Indiana statute that permitted private corporations to build public recreation facilities managed by a new independent agency. The Country Club voted to donate its private nine to agency creating an 18-hole facility. Two Wabash County zoning boards approved the master plan by a combined vote of 12 to 0. Farmer Bob McKillip, a member of the zoning boards, told me: “Don, I support the project but mark my words when people are living out there they will complain about farm smells."

My education about complexity and linkages continued when the excavation for two golf course ponds cut seven field tiles that drained Jim McKillip's farm across the street from the course. My first thought was “What are his tiles doing on our property?" Jim, Bob's brother, informed me Federal law allows farms to drain across adjacent properties at lower elevations. We re-routed his tile system across another farm. Next to one of the ponds, the designers had installed a well with a float valve to fill the ponds with well water when rain wasn't doing the job. With the course scheduled to open in 1980 and it wasn't raining enough to fill the ponds, I had the well pump run for several days in a row until Jim McKillip told me it drew down the underground aquifer we shared and burned out his well pump. We bought him a new pump.

When it opened in the 1980's the Honeywell Golf Course was named one of the ten best public courses in Indiana by The Indianapolis Star. But the site still lacked sewer and water mains and a housing developer.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis talks about the need for “adaptive capacity" to cope with change. The Honeywell Gardens project required that. The expansion of the Wabash sewage treatment plant, already underway, was more than sufficient to accommodate the site and I persuaded WEDCOR to build its new water tower near our site, giving the Foundation access to sewage treatment and water sources needed to make the housing feasible.

An architecture buff, I had a relationship with the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University in Muncie and persuaded the Foundation Board to partner with the energy center at the CAP to develop the Gardens housing as a model education and research project in passive solar energy. “Passive solar" energy, not discussed widely today, involves designing a building itself to make use of solar energy. “Active solar" involves technology, such as photovoltaic panels.

The Ball State proposal noted:
“The City of Wabash has not encouraged builders or developers to consider building homes or other buildings to use the sun efficiently. While Indiana does not receive as much solar radiation as some other states, it does receive sufficient amounts to help reduce the energy costs of Indiana homes if they are properly designed.

“An average single home here that locates 80% ot its windows on the south side and uses thick insulation will cost about 5% more to build than a conventional home but 50% less per year to heat. Windows in such a passive solar house should equal no more than 8% of the total floor space and 40% of the south wall space. East-west streets provide the ideal layout because the streets and yards tend to protect solar access."

The proposal listed these broad goals for the project: 1. advance the state of the art in energy conservation through a long term, slow build out, field tested research program; 2. institute a model in energy efficient housing and community design which can attract a national audience, and 3. provide a long term, wide ranging educational program based on the research findings.

Developing the housing as a charitable project required advance approval by the Internal Revenue Service of a “private letter ruling." Unfortunately, the IRS rejected the proposal, saying it sounded like a conventional commercial subdivision. The Foundation Board decided to extend the City's sewer and water mains to the site and serve as the sales agent for the housing lots with income subject to the regular corporate tax rate. Below is a preliminary site plan by Rocke & Associates in the 1980's.

Most of the lots in the first phase of the housing development have now been sold. To learn about the development, Google and click on About Us and The Gardens.

Complex projects of all kinds can best be addressed with systems thinking. Passive solar housing design is even more important today than it was during the energy crisis of the seventies when the Honeywell Gardens housing development was first conceived.


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