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Santa Barbara County supervisors amend cannabis ordinances to address conflicts
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Santa Barbara County supervisors amend cannabis ordinances to address conflicts

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The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors this week approved Land Use and Development Code ordinance amendments in an effort to resolve some of the conflicts that have grown from cannabis cultivation operations in the inland unincorporated areas.

The amendments addressing four main issues will affect as many as 48 proposed operations and reduce the amount of land proposed for cannabis cultivation by 39 square miles or more, but one supervisor didn’t believe the changes went far enough.

On a 4-1 vote, with 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann dissenting, the board required all processing to be done indoors with the best available odor control, which will affect four proposed projects, and banned cultivation in existing developed rural neighborhoods, or EDRNs, which will impact 12 projects and reduce the county's potentially cultivated area by 25,047 acres.

In the same vote, the board required cannabis operations to be set back from all property lines by 50 feet, which will affect 48 proposed projects, and required conditional use permits, or CUPs, to be obtained for cultivation on more than 51% of a parcel in areas zoned Agriculture 2.

Currently, 10 or 11 projects are proposed on a total of 233 acres that would be required to obtain CUPs; if each applicant reduced the size of the grow so only a less-restrictive land use permit would be necessary, the total area proposed for cultivation would drop by 73 acres.

The decision on the full package of amendments, prepared by staff at the board’s previous direction, came after hours of public testimony and two conceptual votes that considered the prohibition on cultivation in EDRNs separately from the others.

Hartmann said requiring a CUP, rather than the less restrictive land use permit, on projects covering more than 51% of a parcel would not protect the many established vineyards and wineries of the Santa Rita Hills.

“Of the 19 [cannabis cultivation] projects proposed there — 720 acres — not one would cultivate over 51% of the parcel, so not one would require a CUP,” Hartmann said, adding that meant not one would have odor control, which is currently not required on properties zoned AG-2.

Hartmann pointed out that cannabis is currently flowering, and even though it’s growing on only a small percentage of the acreage proposed for cultivation, the smell is pervasive throughout the valley and into Buellton.

“I am here in my final plea before we make the Santa Rita Hills area a sacrifice area,” she said.

Hartmann proposed requiring a CUP for grows over 20 acres, but failing to gain support for that, she later suggested 30% parcel coverage as a CUP threshold, which also was not supported.

First District Supervisor Das Williams and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino were both opposed to the ban on cultivation in EDRNs and were the two dissenters in the 3-2 conceptual vote on including that in the amendment package.

Williams said none of the board’s previous efforts to tighten restrictions on cultivation have been appreciated by project opponents.

“I don’t feel people coming together as we embrace more restrictions,” he said. “I feel like it’s actually just causing people to be more vociferous, more offensive, less willing to compromise, and I’m just … trying to understand the logic of embracing more restrictions when all I see in results is more lawsuits and more vitriol, more hate and more … rumor, gossip and innuendo.”

Lavagnino said he wasn’t sure 20 acres was the right number for triggering the need for a CUP, and he didn’t like establishing a requirement that cannabis operators are working to meet, then changing it just as they’re ready to seek approval.

“I just have such a hard time with us having people go through a … two- [to] three-year process and spend $100,000 and then change [the requirements] … ,” he said. “I just think people need their time at the plate.”

But in the final vote on the package, Lavagnino dropped his opposition to banning cultivation in EDRNs in the interest of getting the entire package of amendments approved.

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