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Contest highlights affordable housing 

If there's an ideal scenario for building genuinely affordable housing on the Central Coast rather than the $500,000-mortgage variety that can wear the name it might go something as follows: Services such as gas and water lines would already be in place on the site, the buildings would be small and economical to build, and the bureaucratic process would be straightforward and short.

It would also be nice if the buildings were beautiful and the plans were cheap. Or free.

Local architects and the San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building Department are teaming up to try to achieve that entire package through a contest that will highlight innovative designs for "secondary dwellings," also sometimes known as granny units.

The initial designs are due to the county by March 16, and Chuck Stevenson, the county planning manager who thought up the contest, said he hopes to have the plans available to the public by June.

"Chuck came up with a fairly creative way to get some housing on the ground that can put some people under a roof relatively soon," said Leonard Grant, president of the Central Coast chapter of the American Institute of Architects. "There's a fair amount of excitement about it."

The designs will be for small buildings, no more than 800 square feet, that homeowners would add to their properties. Stevenson hopes to make about 10 designs available to the public, ideally with different siding or roof options so they can be adapted to fit the styles of various homes. Stevenson said he also hopes to reach out to local lumberyards to see if they will sell the materials for the winning designs in a kit form.

Because the designs will already have been vetted by the county, the county's approval process to build them could be as short as a week, though that timeline wouldn't apply to individual cities, which have their own processes.

In all, people could cut several thousand dollars off the cost of building by using the free plans, Stevenson said.

There's no prize money for winners, but Stevenson said he hopes the contest will bring recognition to the architects. Grant said the participating architects are more motivated by the goal of adding affordable housing to the area.


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