Tuesday, April 13, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 6

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 12th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 24 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 21, Issue 24

County Planning Commission hears appeal of contentious land use permit

By Malea Martin

The Santa Barbara Planning Commission recently heard both sides of a contentious land use debate over whether a proposed vegetable greenhouse would be misused for growing cannabis. The Aug. 5 meeting ended in a vote to continue the discussion at the commission’s Sept. 4 meeting. 

The hearing was requested by Stephen Jacobs, who asked the commission to consider an appeal supported by more than 100 of his neighbors, he said. The neighborhood in question is located on the north border of Solvang, and straddles the city limits.  

Jacobs, the main appellant, argues that the approved construction of a nearly 16,000-square-foot greenhouse on a property in his neighborhood is not compatible with surrounding residences, would create issues with the water supply, and is not in compliance with the county Land Use and Development Code. 

Steve Decker, the property owner who plans to build the greenhouse, got the development approved on June 8, 2020, with a land use permit. Jacobs filed his appeal eight days later. 

A county staff report presented at the meeting by Planner Ben Singer addressed some of the main claims made in Jacobs’ appeal, with Singer ultimately recommending that the Planning Commission deny the appeal. 

Addressing the claim of neighborhood incompatibility, Singer said that the property and surrounding unincorporated area is zoned AG-1-5, which encourages “maximum agricultural productivity.” As for concerns around water usage, Singer said, the county does not have “expressed purview over individual water usage.”

The third claim proved one of the larger points of discussion at the meeting. Jacobs’ appeal points out that Decker first applied for his greenhouse project as a cannabis operation, but the county’s cannabis ordinance made the proposal unfeasible. So, Jacobs claims, Decker submitted a new land use permit application shortly after, which was fundamentally the same, but switched the word “cannabis” out for “vegetable.” From Jacobs’ and his neighbors’ perspectives, Decker’s intention is still to run a cannabis farm.

“This is not a commercial neighborhood, and it’s going to change the reflection of how this neighborhood looks if you allow it,” Jacobs said at the meeting.

However, the county staff report drew a different conclusion.

“The applicant has made it explicitly clear that the greenhouse will not be used for cannabis cultivation, [and] is therefore not subject to the cannabis ordinance and cannot be out of compliance with said ordinance,” Singer said.

Decker argued that his property and those neighboring are zoned for agriculture, and that the community’s land use goals support “true, productive agriculture.”

“Policies of the county land use regulations and the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan clearly and unambiguously state this,” he said at the meeting. 

After Jacobs and Decker each gave their sides to the story, six different speakers from the neighborhood spoke in support of Jacobs’ appeal during public comment. The issue was then brought back to the Planning Commission for discussion.

“This issue of what is the true intent here, I don’t know how we would ever solve that or deal with that here at the Planning Commission,” said Commissioner John Parke, who represents the county’s 3rd District, which includes the area in which Decker hopes to build his greenhouse.

Parke continued and said his main concern is whether Decker’s project is truly exempt from environmental review. 

Singer noted in his presentation that the county considers the proposed greenhouse to be a “small structure,” and therefore is exempt from the section of the California Environmental Quality Act that concerns structure size. However, Parke questioned whether a 16,000-square-foot greenhouse is really a small structure, and pointed out that there are no objective standards for what constitutes a small structure. 

With this main concern in mind, Parke made the motion “to give direction to staff to continue this to Sept. 4, and to prepare appropriate findings for approval of the appeal and denial of the project.”

The motion was seconded by Planning Commission Chair Laura Bridley, and approved 4-0. Commissioner Daniel Blough was absent from this part of the meeting, so he didn’t cast a vote. 

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