The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] – Volume 21, Issue 4
Supervisors approve cannabis farm west of Buellton
By Zac Ezzone
Nearly a year after the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department approved plans for a cannabis farm on Highway 246 about a mile west of Buellton, the project has received a final stamp of approval from supervisors following a lengthy appeal process.
The county Planning and Development Department first approved the plans for Busy Bee’s Organics, which farmers Sara Rotman and Nate Diaz own and operate, in May 2019. But the decision was appealed to the Planning Commission, which debated the project over the course of two meetings before unanimously approving the project at a meeting in November 2019.
The Santa Barbara County Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, a group of residents that has pushed back on numerous local cannabis projects and called for stricter regulations, appealed the commission’s decision to the county Board of Supervisors. The board—absent 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, who didn’t attend the meeting—unanimously approved plans for the project at its March 17 meeting. For Rotman, this vote put an end to a lengthy process.
“We’re thrilled that this long path to our final, unanimous approval is over,” Rotman said in an emailed statement to the Sun. “The supervisors did a tremendous job giving the public a voice during this difficult time, and we’re grateful for their dedication and diligence. Now we’re ready to get back to farming.”
The coalition, represented by attorney Marc Chytilo, argued that the odor abatement plan proposed for the project wasn’t strong enough. The group also claimed that the project will cause environmental impacts that weren’t considered in the environmental impact review the county completed when first drafting its cannabis cultivation ordinance. The group, and other cannabis opponents in the Santa Ynez Valley, have claimed that a concentration of cannabis farms proposed in the valley could create conflicts with existing agriculture operations.
Rotman and Diaz also appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of their project, because they felt some of the conditions the commission added to their permit would hinder their ability to operate.
This includes a requirement the commission added to the project that would have prevented Rotman and Diaz from drying any cannabis on-site. The commission also created a condition that would have required the director of the county Planning and Development Department to review the project in two years and report back to the commission on any conflicts with nearby agricultural operations that have occurred during that time. In its approval of the project, the board removed these and other more stringent requirements.
While discussing the merits of the project—which includes the cultivation of 22 acres of cannabis, including 5 acres grown under hoop houses—1st District Supervisor Das Williams commended it as an example for other farms to follow.
“We want projects that are choosing to do something that makes sure their operation is compatible visually with the aesthetic of the valley,” Williams said.
While also acknowledging the care Rotman and Diaz have taken to create a farm that blends in with the surrounding landscape, 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said that because this is the first outdoor project the board has considered, it raises numerous questions about flaws in the county’s ordinance. The board is slated to hear appeals over other cannabis projects in the Santa Ynez Valley in the coming months.
“I don’t think it’s fair to put the whole burden on this single project, but I do think that now that we see these projects coming before us, one-by-one, we see the flaws in the ordinance and I’m committed to trying to fix them,” Hartmann said.
Last July, the board asked the Planning Commission to look at potential amendments in the county’s existing ordinance that could mitigate cannabis odor and other potential conflicts. So far this year the commission has held numerous meetings on this topic, and is prioritizing pursuing stricter odor control measures.