The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors paved the way for Central Coast Agriculture to advance cannabis operations in the Santa Rita Hills near Buellton by denying a project appeal during its regular meeting Tuesday.
Four supervisors voted to approve the cannabis project after a lengthy hearing Tuesday where both the appellant and the applicant staked their claims.
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann abstained from her vote, citing concerns over the project’s water source and instances of alleged illegal expansion of the property that occurred without a permit.
The proposed project from Central Coast Agriculture requests a conditional use permit to allow a 29-acre cannabis cultivation operation on a 68-acre piece of land. About 22 acres of the operation would grow underneath 12-foot hoop structures, and all harvested cannabis would be processed in an existing warehouse in the property and frozen within a half an hour of harvest.
The project was initially proposed in 2019, and after multiple rounds of revisions and meetings with the County Planning Commission, the project received approval from the commission in January 2021.
One of the main hold-ups in project approval centered on Central Coast Agriculture’s odor abatement plan. Over many months, the company further developed the plan to factor in concerns of community members about the odor that could exude from the project site. The updates to the plan were found to be sufficient by the Planning Commission.
Shortly after approval from the Planning Commission, the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis filed an appeal in late January, claiming the project’s existing odor abatement plan would not stop odor at the property line, that the project did not comply with state environmental regulations and was inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan, among other complaints.
Marc Chytilo, a Santa Barbara-based environmental attorney, spoke on behalf of the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis during Tuesday’s meeting. He overviewed the coalition’s concerns, drawing attention to the site’s water resources and questioning the compatibility of the project with existing agriculture infrastructure in the area.
“This is the future of agriculture in Santa Barbara County, and if you don’t undertake genuine findings of compatibility, you’re going to be trading long term agricultural commitments for short-term operations that may not be with us for that long,” Mr. Chytilo said Tuesday.
In response to these claims, representatives from Central Coast Agriculture presented plans for additional landscaping to be done in the area that would create a tree barrier to prevent aesthetic changes to the area. Officials from CCA also assured that the odor abatement protocols would be followed, and by design, the property has a significant buffer between the edges of the property and the area of cannabis operation.
“There’s a pretty big buffer on the northern side of the property where we’re not cultivating cannabis,” Lindsay Cokeley, a compliance manager at Central Coast Agriculture, said Tuesday. “Our cultivation area in total makes up less than 50% of the parcel as well.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Chytilo also presented evidence of illegal, unpermitted expansion of cannabis containers on the property completed by Central Coast Agriculture in recent years, to which the applicants did not provide an explanation. However, Ms. Cokeley did explain that the bins would be moved to another location, likely in Lompoc, within the next three years.
Supervisors deliberated after both the appellant and applicant presented. Each supervisor agreed that the comprehensive updates to the odor abatement plan made great improvements to the project.
Bob Nelson,4th District supervisor and chair of the board, said he felt it was appropriate to approve this project after seeing revisions made by Central Coast Agriculture and its willingness to work with community partners.
“If somebody goes through the process, if they do the work, if they go through and it’s a properly zoned property, then I want to give them a chance to meet the project threshold,” Mr. Nelson said.
As supervisor of the district where the project would take place, Ms. Hartmann said she could not vote to approve the project based on certain discrepancies. She explained that she wanted more clarity about the project’s water source and could not ignore Central Coast Agriculture’s illegal expansion. These issues are ultimately what led to her abstaining from voting, she said.
“I think on the one hand this project shows that a conditional use permit gives greater opportunity for negotiation, for innovation, for pioneering, for better solutions, for adapting to the site, and I think we got a better project as a result of this,” Ms. Hartmann said. “On the other hand, the concentration in the Santa Rita in the pipeline is untenable … the intractable odor train with the residents tied to the tracks is coming toward Buellton.”