After more than 2½ years working through Santa Barbara County’s cannabis regulations, Central Coast Agriculture survived an appeal of its conditional use permit for a cultivation and processing operation on Santa Rosa Road southwest of Buellton where cannabis is already being grown.

On May 4, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-0-1, with 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann abstaining, to deny an appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision filed by the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis.

The coalition raised six main issues as the basis for the appeal — the odor control plan, noncompliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, expansion of the legal nonconforming use area, an inadequate transportation management plan, inconsistency with the County Comprehensive Plan and a lack of evidence for making the findings for approval.

But a staff report refuted the claims and recommended supervisors approve the project.

Central Coast Agriculture’s permit will allow the cultivation of 29.8 acres of cannabis outdoors and under hoop structures with onsite processing on a 68.1-acre parcel south of the Santa Ynez River about half a mile from Buellton, according to the Planning and Development Department staff report.

CC Ag expansion.jpg

A series of aerial images included in a May 4 presentation to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors by Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis purportedly shows the "illegal" expansion of Central Coast Agriculture's medical marijuana cultivation operation from December 2015, at left, to October 2019, at right, although the second and third image both have the same December 2016 date.

The plan includes 24,000 square feet of landscaping, most of which has already been planted, and the use of 57 existing storage containers, 42 of which will be removed within three years.

Of the cannabis to be processed on site, up to 80% will be grown offsite. Cannabis will be frozen, and remaining processing will take place in Lompoc, the staff report said.

The project permit included last-minute revisions strengthening the odor control plan by hiring an odor expert to conduct a two-year study at 12 sites and to initiate a best-available-control-technology analysis after a second odor complaint.

In addition, Central Coast Agriculture will add any resident with a Buellton ZIP code to a community outreach list of those within 1,000 feet of the site who will be sent a report every six months about planting schedules, odor complaints, any improvements to the odor abatement plan and updated contact information for lodging complaints.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said “the bar’s been raised” for judging all other cannabis operations’ odor control plans, although 1st District Supervisor Das Williams questioned the value of using a vapor phase odor control system on outdoor cultivation.

Hartmann was critical of the process the county uses for verifying water rights and adequacy, the difficulty the public might have in understanding the odor control complaint process and the apparently illegal expansion of cultivation on the site as a legal nonconforming use.

“Given that I, too, look on this operation from my home, I have to comment on legal nonconforming [use] … it has expanded tremendously from the footprint it originally had and expanded tremendously from medical to retail,” Hartmann said.

“And that, to me, is certainly not what we intended and it cannot go unremarked,” she said, adding, “I don’t know what we can do about it.”

But her reason for withholding her vote was based on the potential concentration of cannabis cultivation in the Santa Rita Hills from project applications that are already in the permitting pipeline, which she called “untenable.”

“I have a great deal of difficulty in adding to this without knowing what’s coming,” she said, noting her inclination would be to abstain in the vote, which she said she had never done.

Other supervisors expressed a few concerns about the project but generally praised applicant John DeFriel for his efforts to respond to opponents’ complaints, primarily concerning odor control, as well as Marc Chytilo, representing the appellants, for raising certain issues, particularly about water.

Supervisors said their combined efforts resulted in a better project.

“Considering all the scrutiny this project has deservedly gotten — it’s a big project in a sensitive area — I’m prepared to support the project,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said.

Lavagnino seemed to agree with that assessment.

“I think the fact that we didn’t have, you know, 50, 60, 70 residents of Buellton coming in and complaining is a testament to the outreach they’ve done, the odor control plan that they have in, so I will be able to go ahead and support this project,” he said.

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