Monday, November 18, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 37
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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 6th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 36 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 36

Planning commission chair asks for significant changes to cannabis project

By Zac Ezzone

After a nearly nine-hour meeting on Oct. 30, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission delayed making a decision on an appeal of a land use permit for a cannabis farm in Buellton after the commission’s chair requested significant changes be made to the project.

Commission Chair John Parke—who represents the county’s 3rd District, where the farm is located—complimented different aspects of the project, such as the owners’ farming practices, but said he would vote against the project in its current conditions. 

“If I had to vote all or nothing, the project as is, I would be concerned enough about these policies, I would vote against it,” Parke said. “But I don’t have to do that. I think we can condition the project in certain ways, or at least I would like to.”

Sara Rotman and her husband own the farm in question, Busy Bees Organics. The county Planning and Development Department approved a land use permit to allow Rotman and her husband to grow 22 acres of cannabis on their 64-acre farm off Highway 246 near Buellton in May. 

Farmer Sharyne Merritt, who owns property on Santa Rosa Road near Busy Bees Organics, appealed the county’s approval of this permit on May 16.

This is just one of several cannabis projects that have been appealed in the Santa Ynez Valley. Appellants in these cases claim cannabis isn’t compatible with the region’s wine and other agriculture industries under the county’s existing ordinances. 

Vintners have raised concerns over cannabis terpenes—organic compounds produced by a variety of plants—potentially affecting the taste of wine grapes, although there’s no scientific proof that this happens. Some farmers have expressed concerns about not being able to apply pesticides on their crops out of fear that they could be sued for accidentally contaminating nearby cannabis farms.

At the end of the meeting, Parke offered four conditions that he would like to see added to the land use permit for Busy Bees Organics. 

He wants to see a reduction in the overall number of acres of cannabis being grown on the property from 22 to 17. He also wants to limit the hoop houses allowed on the property to just a small section off the back of the farm, rather than across the entire property. 

As a 3rd District commissioner, Parke said this condition is vital given the concerns that residents in the Santa Ynez Valley raised over the county’s hoop house ordinance

“I can tell you as a practical matter, me being a 3rd District planning commissioner, and given all the attention the hoop house ordinance got … if I voted for that 22 acres [of hoop houses], I would be hanging from a lamppost within 24 hours, and I’m not going to do that,” Parke said. “Not just to survive, but because it’s not the right thing.”

Parke also called for a time limit on the project’s permit, which would require the county to review and re-approve the project in two years. He said this would give the county a chance to assess whether the concerns vintners and other farmers have raised over the cannabis industry have come to fruition and if changes need to be made to the project.

Parke’s fellow commissioners agreed with some of these conditions, but not all of them. Commissioner Dan Blough said the two-year time limit condition is unnecessary.

“I don’t like the idea that [the applicants have] spent $100,000 or whatever they spent to get here today to get their approvals, and they have to spend a bunch of money again in two or three years to come back,” Blough said.

The commission moved to continue the meeting and directed planning staff to develop these conditions and bring them back to the commission at a meeting on Nov. 7. 

Attorney Susan Petrovich, who represented Rotman at the meeting, said the continuation is acceptable but that the two-year permit renewal condition Parke requested is unreasonable for any business. 

“You may as well deny us,” she said. “In fact we’d like you to deny us if you’re going to include a condition like that because we really do want to go to the [Board of Supervisors] and not have everybody waste their time crafting conditions that aren’t going to be acceptable.”




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