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All cannabis cultivation projects in Santa Barbara County may need conditional use permit
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All cannabis cultivation projects in Santa Barbara County may need conditional use permit

Cannabis forest, file photo

Even small commercial cannabis cultivation operations would require a conditional use permit if the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approves ordinance amendments currently slated for consideration June 2. Even projects already being processed for less stringent land use permits would have to switch to the conditional use permit process.

A conditional use permit could be required of all cannabis cultivation operations in Santa Barbara County — even those already being processed for lesser permits — if the Board of Supervisors approves ordinance amendments recommended by the Planning Commission.

Currently, some projects only require land use permits, which are less restrictive, easier and cheaper to obtain and can be issued by the planning director.

If the board approves requiring conditional use permits for all cultivation projects, it would affect applications that are already being processed for land use permits, according to the Planning and Development Department staff. 

The proposed amendments are scheduled to be presented to supervisors at their June 2 meeting, according to a report to the commission Wednesday by Lisa Plowman, director of the Planning and Development Department.

In her director’s report, Plowman told commissioners Santa Barbara West Coast Farms’ appeal of the commission’s permit denial had been heard by the Board of Supervisors, which upheld the appeal and approved the project.

Supervisors made the decision April 22 on a 3-2 vote, giving West Coast Farms approval to cultivate just over 46 acres of cannabis, start new plants on a 4-acre nursery and process harvested cannabis in two 3,000-square-foot buildings on a parcel located on Highway 246 just over a mile west of Buellton.

Fifth District Commissioner Dan Blough recommended the rest of the commission watch the archived video of the meeting.

“It was an interesting hearing to listen to, especially the deliberations by the board,” Blough said. “It is painfully obvious to them that [land use permits] are not the way to go on these cannabis issues.”

He said that, like the commission, the board was trying to find a way to “not have a sea of cannabis” along the Highway 246 corridor and wanted to reduce the acreage West Coast Farms could devote to cannabis to 51% of the parcel.

However, because the project was being considered for a land use permit, supervisors did not have the discretion to make that change and could only uphold or deny the appeal.

Blough said a large number of projects are being processed for land use permits that should be processed for conditional use permits.

He also recommended the fees for conditional use permits be adjusted for projects currently being processed for land use permits “so the applicants are not at an economic disadvantage because we’re changing the rules.”

Fourth District Commissioner Larry Ferini noted the commission previously recommended that supervisors require conditional use permits of all cannabis cultivation projects about three months ago and asked why that had not gone before the board.

Plowman said that recommendation is to be presented to the board June 2, explaining that board letters, which present each issue, require “several loops of review” first.

In addition, because of a shortage of staff, Deputy Director Dan Klemann had to work on the proposed amendments at the same time he was working on the department’s long-range plan.

She noted that if supervisors give final approval to the amendments, they would take effect in 30 days, and all projects would have to obtain conditional use permits regardless of where they were in the process, “unless they’ve started work or made a significant investment.”

The only cannabis project scheduled to come up between now and June 2 is the appeal of the Herbal Angels project, which already involves a conditional use permit and a development permit, Plowman said.

“The permits in the pipeline will be captured by that” change in the ordinances, she said.

Blough also said the board should consider changing the county’s Uniform Rules for the Williamson Act that currently require 51% of a property to be devoted to agriculture uses to qualify for agricultural preserve status.

He recommended requiring only 30% of a site for cannabis cultivation projects, because on ag preserve land, the operator pays property taxes based on the value of crop, not the land.

With high-dollar products like cannabis and berries, the taxes can exceed the amount they would be if based on the value of the property.

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