A decision on an appeal of a cannabis cultivation project off Drum Canyon Road near Buellton was delayed Wednesday by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission to give the appellants and the applicant time to negotiate a compromise.
Commissioners voted 4-0, with 1st District Commissioner Michael Cooney absent, to continue the appeal of the Sun Valley Ranch project to the June 30 meeting, indicating their intention to deny the appeal and approve the project as an incentive for the appellants to settle the issues.
The Strange family and nearby Hines family appealed the land use permit for the project granted by the Planning and Development Department director for Sun Valley Ranch to cultivate 40 acres of cannabis outdoors under hoop structures.
BDZ Inc. would manage the operation on a fenced 70-acre portion of a 345.5-acre ranch along unimproved and privately owned Crawford Canyon Road that intersects Drum Canyon Road about 500 feet from Highway 246 almost 4 miles west of Buellton.
Crawford Canyon Road provides easement access to Strange Family Vineyards and lies adjacent to the site of a proposed Hines family winery and tasting room at Drum Canyon Road.
The appellants challenged the permit over a lack of odor control, the visual impacts of the hoop structures, damage employees’ and other vehicles will cause to the road with no maintenance plan, an inadequate landscaping plan, inconsistencies in the amount of cannabis acreage, incompatibility with the County Comprehensive Plan and violation of California Environmental Quality Act provisions.
Changes appellants wanted included a 1,500-foot setback from the proposed winery site, no hoop houses in front of the Strange family residence, a road maintenance agreement and either an odor abatement plan or the cultivation moved to the other side of the property.
A mediator hired by the Hines family said the appellants had been negotiating with project owner Young Jacobson and felt they were near reaching an agreement until Wednesday morning, when negotiations collapsed.
Amy Steinfeld, representing the applicant, said the 1,500-foot buffer would take out two and a half sections, or about 20 acres, of the grow site, but after the commission’s lunch break, she said Jacobson agreed to a 750-foot buffer that would eliminate only one section plus the corner of another, or about 6 acres.
Steinfeld suggested allowing Jacobson to plant as proposed until the winery became operational, which she said would probably be five years. Then cannabis would be removed to create the 750-foot buffer and an equal amount would be added to the northern end by reducing internal access roads.
Third District Commissioner John Parke wanted to continue the appeal to give the parties a chance to work out a compromise on those issues and to give both sides time to submit more detailed maps and graphics.
“I think if the parties take a little bit of time to do it on their own and get it right, they’ll have a better outcome,” Parke said.
That was supported by 2nd District Commissioner Laura Place, who wanted more details on the plans.
“Sending this case to final issuance is sloppy,” she said.
Fourth District Commissioner and Chairman Larry Ferini also supported the continuance.
“These guys are going to be neighbors for a long time, and if we ask them to take another three weeks and it can make them a little bit better neighbors, it would be worth it,” Ferini said.
But a continuance was opposed by 5th District Commissioner Dan Blough, who said it would not change anything but would cost the applicant another $2,000 to $3,000 in costs for county staff time.
“This has been three years [in the planning process]. That’s enough,” Blough said.
But he eventually agreed to support the continuance because a tie vote could mean the project would be denied.
“I don’t want the project denied because that would be ridiculous,” he said. “There’s no merit in this project being denied.”