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Waterman Peace Village would rehab old SLO adobe, add art studio and tiny-home village 

A historic California adobe. Modern tiny homes. A straw bale art gallery. Most people probably wouldn't see any connection between those three concepts. But the city of San Luis Obispo and two local nonprofits say they've found one.

The Waterman Peace Village, a project in its early planning stages, proposes to rehabilitate the city-owned Rosa Butron de Canet Adobe, a 1850s-era adobe home on Dana Street near downtown SLO, and add an art studio and up to 20 tiny homes around it.

click to enlarge 'A LIVING DEMONSTRATION' Two local nonprofits are working with the city of San Luis Obispo to possibly rehabilitate the Rosa Butron de Canet Adobe on Dana Street, and construct a new art studio and tiny homes on site. Architect Ken Haggard's recent composite shows the proposed project. - COMPOSITE COURTESY OF THE PEACE PROJECT
  • Composite Courtesy Of The Peace Project
  • 'A LIVING DEMONSTRATION' Two local nonprofits are working with the city of San Luis Obispo to possibly rehabilitate the Rosa Butron de Canet Adobe on Dana Street, and construct a new art studio and tiny homes on site. Architect Ken Haggard's recent composite shows the proposed project.

Envisioned as a "living demonstration" of sustainability, affordability, and conscious living, the city recently struck a partnership with The Peace Project and Smart Share Housing Solutions to begin planning and fundraising for the venture.

"We were receptive to it from the beginning," SLO City Natural Resources Manager Bob Hill told New Times. "The city owns four adobe structures, all in various states of repair and needed attention. The city takes seriously our obligation to steward and restore these historic resources. We want to see things happen there. We want them to be active and vibrant."

Angela Tahti, a consultant for The Peace Project—which is a creation of local artist and sculptor David Settino Scott—first initiated the concept for the project more than a year ago.

Tahti said she approached the city in search of potential properties for Scott's Peace Project—a new proposed art studio and sculpture gallery centered on themes of "compassion, empathy, and gratitude" and designed by renowned local architect Ken Haggard.

"In contacting the city, we learned about these adobes," said Tahti, a former executive director at ARTS Obispo. "Bob [Hill] said, 'Let's go look at Dana Street.'"

Gifted to the city in 1989, the Rosa Butron de Canet Adobe has since sat virtually untouched. In the adobe's earliest years, it was used as a place for citizens to post legal notices, as it predated any local newspaper. Through most of the 20th century, it served as a residence to Mildred Waterman and her partner, Mary Gail Black, an eminent reporter for the Telegram-Tribune, who passed the adobe on to the city after her death under a condition that its next incarnation include "Waterman" in the title.

Shaded by various mature heritage trees, including avocado, pecan, oak, and redwood, the old adobe now sits quietly at the center of its creekside lot. When Tahti first toured the roughly three-quarter-acre property, she said it struck her as ripe for something special.

"The property was just magical," Tahti said. "We thought, 'Oh, we can really do something here.' And if we could save the Rosa Butron adobe from further disrepair, all the better."

It seemed like a win-win, but before the city cemented the partnership, it wanted to give other organizations the opportunity to pitch their ideas. SLO issued a "request for information" and received one response, from Smart Share Housing Solutions, a local nonprofit dedicated to connecting residents with affordable housing.

Anne Wyatt, Smart Share's executive director, said that the group had been in the midst of searching for property for a tiny-home village when she saw the city's posting and applied. She said tiny homes, which were recently legalized in SLO city, have not sprouted up as much as Smart Share hoped when the organization hosted a tiny-home expo in 2019.

"What we've seen is minimal," Wyatt said. "For a number of reasons, it hasn't taken off."

SLO officials asked the two groups if they could find synergy in their projects, and it didn't take long for the art and housing camps to find common ground. Hill noted that the city immediately saw the potential benefits of a shared project—combining city goals like affordable housing, historic preservation, and diversity and inclusion.

"It seemed like we had all our goals coming together," Hill said.

Haggard, The Peace Project architect, who's an industry pioneer in sustainable building (he co-authored California's first handbook on passive solar), also saw the tiny homes as a big boost to the project.

"Combining with the tinies gave us a way of addressing many of the modern problems of society: affordability, transportation, utilities, the miniaturization of infrastructure," Haggard told New Times. "Historically, the original village—the indigenous village—was right there. I liked the idea that the village went away, and we'll have a new village coming in. There's a symmetry there."

The Peace Project studio is proposed to go next to the adobe and would be built using straw bale construction and other recycled materials. Once finished, Scott's "A Pure Working"—a collection of busts honoring those who have self-immolated in the name of peace—would be housed inside of it. The studio would also have space for rotating exhibits as well as small public lectures, workshops, and events.

"Hopefully, the studio part is going to be evocative of the original architecture, to some degree," Haggard said. "That's originally why those adobes worked pretty well—you have thermal mass. The [straw bale] insulation value is twice of standard."

Then, the proposed tiny homes would line the property's perimeter—raised aboveground due to the creek floodplain, with utilities running under a walkway between the homes, according to proponents.

Sized between 150 and 300 square feet each, Wyatt of Smart Share said the tiny homes would exclusively serve low-income residents who could commit to a community-minded and sustainable living experience. Wyatt noted that she hopes to provide a path to home ownership, where residents could eventually own their tiny house, with the underlying land remaining with the city.

At the center of the property, as always, will sit the Rosa Butron de Canet Adobe. The groups say they plan to jointly fundraise to help rehabilitate the main adobe structure, which would eventually open for public tours, with historical exhibits and offices for the two organizations inside.

Both components of the project will come at a high price tag: about $2.5 million each, they said. On Sept. 7, the SLO City Council approved a two-year negotiating agreement that gives them time to show progress on fundraising and planning before plans move forward. All stakeholders said there's a long ways to go, with plenty of opportunities for public input ahead.

"We want to know if it's a feasible project," said Hill with SLO city. "They're pretty active and ambitious, though, and I'm excited about it." Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson can be reached at [email protected].


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