Wednesday, February 8, 2023     Volume: 23, Issue: 49

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 13th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 37 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 37

County Planning Commission gives two cannabis projects the go-ahead


After numerous hearings, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission recently approved two cannabis cultivation projects and denied one.

On Nov. 6, the commission discussed winemaker Blair Pence’s appeals filed over the county’s approval of the Santa Rita Valley Ag. Inc. project and the Santa Barbara West Coast Farms project. The commission denied the former appeal and upheld the latter. During a special meeting on the following day, the commission unanimously denied an appeal that farmer Sharyne Merritt filed over the county’s approval of the Busy Bees Organics project. All three properties are located along Highway 246, near Buellton.

These appeals, and others filed in the county, have centered on whether cannabis is compatible with existing agriculture in the county. 

Vintners have raised concerns over cannabis terpenes—organic compounds produced by a variety of plants—potentially affecting the taste of wine grapes. Some farmers have also 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. 

Aside from farmers, some residents have complained about the number of cannabis cultivation permits approved or pending along Highway 246, which is a concern Planning Commission Chair John Parke shares.

“Of course my problem is the clustering of so many grows right in the same place, neck to neck, and especially at [the Santa Ynez Valley] western gateway,” Parke said while discussing the Santa Barbara West Coast Farms project on Nov. 6. 

The commission first discussed the Santa Rita Valley Ag. Inc. project, and was scheduled to discuss the Santa Barbara West Coast Farms project, during a nearly nine-hour meeting in August. But commissioners decided to postpone making a decision on both farms. The commission also delayed making a decision on Busy Bees Organics when it first discussed the project during another nearly nine-hour meeting on Oct. 30. 

At that October meeting, Planning Commission Chair John Parke said he would only vote in favor of approving the project if certain conditions were added to it, such as a reduction in the amount of acreage used for cultivation and a two-year review period. 

During the Nov. 7 special meeting, staff brought back these conditions, as well as an alternative to the two-year permit review period that gives the county’s planning director the ability to check on the project in two years. With these conditions in place, the commission unanimously approved the project. 

Commissioner Dan Blough added a similar acreage reduction requirement, as well as a landscaping condition, to the Santa Rita Valley Ag. Inc. project. In a 3-2 vote, the commission denied the appeal and approved this project. 

In the vote over the Santa Rita Valley Ag. Inc. project, Parke, who voted against the project, said he didn’t believe the conditions imposed went far enough.

“We’re not considering as heavy of conditions on this as we looked at on [Busy Bees Organics], and yet it’s not nearly as good a project,” Parke said.

After the Santa Rita Valley Ag. Inc. decision, the commission moved forward with denying the Santa Barbara West Coast Farms project in a 3-2 vote.

The commission was scheduled to weigh in on another cannabis cultivation permit near the Santa Ynez Valley on Nov. 13, after the Sun went to press. The applicant behind this project is proposing to grow 15 acres of cannabis on a nearly 64-acre property on Baseline Avenue near Highway 154.

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