Neighbors’ appeal of a relatively small outdoor, mixed-light and indoor cannabis cultivation operation off Highway 246 about 5 miles west of Buellton was denied last week by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission.
The unanimous decision on Oct. 13 gave approval to the SBGL LLC project, allowing outdoor cultivation of 3.5 acres of cannabis without hoop structures, 4,620 square feet of mixed-light greenhouse cultivation, 3,600 square feet of indoor cultivation and a 1,200-square-foot indoor cannabis nursery.
According to a Planning and Development Department staff report, the operation will employ seven people full time, with the addition of three individuals during harvest, which will be once a year for the outdoor grow.
In addition to the cultivation, the project includes 5,552 square feet of indoor cannabis processing with carbon filtration odor control and the installation of 10 5,000-gallon water tanks for fire protection, a 15,800-square-foot ground-mounted solar panel array and a 1,400-square-foot detention basin.
The outdoor grow will result in the loss of about 6 acres of vines, but more than 24 acres of wine grapes will remain in production.
In approving the project, the commission required that the line of 24 coast redwoods proposed to screen the outdoor cannabis grow be changed to native vegetation spread out into a 50-foot buffer zone to create a more natural appearance.
A land use permit allowing the cannabis cultivation on a 98.7-acre parcel at 705 Mail Road, where a 30-acre vineyard already exists, was approved July 2 by the Planning and Development Department director and appealed 10 days later by Kathryn and William Hames.
Speaking Wednesday, William Hames said the project places cannabis on three sides of their longtime home.
“If this project is put in, we will be surrounded by the smell of cannabis,” he said.
The initial appeal cited a lack of required environmental review and the failure to address fire hazards, water use and aquifer depletion, the nuisance impacts of odor and the aesthetic impact of the large solar array.
Planner Alia Vosburg said the environmental impacts were covered in the program environmental impact report, County Fire Department had not raised any issues with the project and new water use was below the threshold of significance.
Vosburg said the project is in compliance with odor abatement regulations and harvested cannabis would be immediately transferred to a processing building, thus limiting odor.
Gelaré Macon, representing applicant Arthur Olowsky, said he was concerned about the potential for odor and voluntarily offered to start with 1 acre of outdoor cannabis the first year to assess its impact on neighbors.
She also said there are no policies that protect private views, and solar panel installation is, by state law, exempt from review.
But Elise Cossart-Daly, representing the Hameses, said new information about the impact biogenic volatile organic compounds released by cannabis plants on air quality, particularly in light of the county’s failure to meet ozone standards, required additional environmental review.
For that reason, she asked the commission to continue the hearing until that was done.
She also cited a lack of data proving the on-site water supply is adequate and asked that the commission require the operator to screen the solar panels from the neighbors’ view.
Commissioners were not swayed by Cossart-Daly’s arguments, although a majority of the board expressed sympathy for the Hameses’ situation, and generally said the applicant is a good neighbor who’s made an effort to address the appeal issues.
“In the ranking of various projects we’ve seen, it would be at the top or near the top of ‘most benign,’” 3rd District Commissioner John Parke said.
Second District Commissioner Laura Bridley pointed out the Hames residence is not only in an agricultural zone but a zone for large agriculture.
“The other thing that speaks volumes to me is that we don’t have vintners here complaining about it,” she said.
Fifth District Commissioner Dan Blough was more critical of the appeal points.
“I think this appeal is completely without merit,” he said. “I think all the arguments are pretty disingenuous.”