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Busy Bee’s cannabis grow gets OK from Santa Barbara County supervisors
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Busy Bee’s cannabis grow gets OK from Santa Barbara County supervisors

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A cannabis cultivation operation west of Buellton got the green light Tuesday when the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors upheld the owners’ appeal but rejected the appeal filed by a community group.

Meeting in Santa Maria, supervisors voted 4-0, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam absent, to grant the appeal filed by Busy Bee’s Organics Inc. over the Planning Commission’s land use permit conditions the owners said was too restrictive and unworkable.

The decision will increase the acreage of cultivation, although it will reduce the amount covered by hoop structures, and will allow harvested cannabis to be dried on site in a sealed structure using the best-available odor-control system.

In the same vote, the board rejected the Santa Barbara County Coalition for Responsible Cannabis appeal of the permit over inadequate environmental review of turpene and pesticide drift, no review of neighborhood compatibility, the operation’s expansion beyond its legal nonconforming use, and violation of community, land use and comprehensive plan policies, among other issues.

“I feel like the board’s decision here is doing an extreme disservices to the Planning Commission and the public,” said Marc Chytilo, attorney for the Coalition, adding that “the public is being kicked in the teeth.”

As a result of the decision, Busy Bee’s Organics will be allowed to cultivate 22 acres of cannabis, with 5 acres under hoop houses and a 2,700-square-foot nursery, on a 62.45-acre site at 1180 W. Highway 246, about a mile west of Buellton city limits.

Hoop structures will not be allowed on the two fields nearest the highway, and harvests will be limited to three per year, although Busy Bee’s will have the option of shipping the cannabis after drying it on site, after flash-freezing it or as fresh flowers.

The permit approved by the Planning Commission would have only allowed 18 acres of cultivation, which is enough to meet the requirements for a Williamson Act agricultural preserve on the parcel, and would have required flash-freezing and shipping the product within two hours of harvest.

With the audience restricted to about 37 people to maintain the county’s mandatory 6-foot social distancing emergency order, public comment was also taken via email and, for the first time, by telephone.

About five people opposed the Busy Bee’s operation, although some of the arguments addressed the county’s cannabis ordinance and program environmental impact report rather than the project, and nine supported it, although a few said they work for Busy Bee’s.

Supervisor Joan Hartmann, whose 3rd District encompasses the Busy Bee’s property, said she was impressed by the “stellar things” the owners had done with regenerative agriculture, security measures, irrigation system and landscape screening.

But she was worried about the cumulative impact of the 971 acres of cannabis cultivation operations west of Buellton on the 59 vineyards in the adjacent Santa Rita Hills American Viticultural Area.

She also was concerned about allegations that Busy Bee’s had expanded beyond its existing legal nonconforming use since the January 2016 cutoff established by the county.

First District Supervisor Das Williams understood her concerns, but he noted Busy Bee’s had been investigated by the compliance team, which found no violations, and he was impressed with the operation when he made a surprise visit to the site.

“When on site, I could hardly tell the difference it posed compared to the surrounding landscape, and I think that’s what we want, right?” Williams said.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.

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