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SLO County has big plans for small buildings 

Those playing along at home can now move one group of architects from the category of "complaining about affordable housing" to "doing something about it."

SLO County is honoring the architects and designers who won its Secondary Dwelling competition at the County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 5. The biggest prizes, though, may be for property owners in unincorporated parts of the county who are looking to build small (less than 800-square-foot) granny units on their lots.

In July, the County Planning and Building Department plans to be able to hand out copies of the winning plans for no more than the cost of printing them. And the plans aren't simply architectural sketches they're fully drawn plans that have already been examined by county staff and structural engineers.

In other words, they're ready to be built. County Planner Chuck Stevenson, who came up with the contest idea, said prospective builders could walk into the office with nothing more than a site map of where on their lot they plan to place the structure, and zoom through the county's permit process in as little as a week.

Secondary dwellings aren't uncommon in the county, but Stevenson said they're more common in rural areas rather than urban areas. The contest's parameters the contest selections are no more than 800 square feet are designed to be buildable in urban areas (although the process doesn't carry over to incorporated cities, which have their own permitting processes).

"We're trying to bring awareness to secondary dwellings as really a good option for affordable housing," Stevenson said, noting that the free plans could save people several thousands of dollars and months of involvement with the permitting process.

Joel Snyder of Avila Beach's Caron Design, which had two of the 10 winning projects, applauded the contest.

"Affordable housing needs to be promoted, in this county perhaps more than any other," he said. Caron's proposals used innovative materials and strove for a modern aesthetic, but Snyder said they also focused on making the projects affordable to build and live in.

Both of the firm's designs were small no more than 400 square feet in an effort to meet the county's demands for more studio-style houses. One of the designs strives for economy by placing all amenities along one wall to save on plumbing and other costs. Another is designed to be able to run on solar power.

Stevenson said cost was a key consideration to the judges some of the designs were original and creative but ultimately would have proved expensive to build.

The other winners are Craig R. Smith, R2L Architects, LGA, San Luis Sustainability Group and Bryce Engstrom.


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