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Permit approved for existing cannabis cultivation project near Buellton
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Permit approved for existing cannabis cultivation project near Buellton

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A cannabis cultivation operation on Santa Rosa Road near Buellton received a conditional use permit and development plan Jan. 13 with the unanimous approval of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission after the company twice revised its odor control plan to address public and commission concerns.

Central Coast Agriculture has been operating the cultivation operation since before Jan. 19, 2016, and applied for the CUP and development plan to make the operation on the 68.19-acre parcel at 8701 Santa Rosa Road compliant with county ordinances.

The approval came after three hearings on the project and multiple revisions to the odor abatement plan, but some members of the public still objected to the odor plan and asked for more changes.

John De Friel, chief executive officer of Central Coast Agriculture, said cannabis has been cultivated on the site for more than five years, but only one unverified odor complaint had been filed three days before the first hearing on the project.

He also pointed out the company was asked to reduce the odor control plan at the first hearing, then asked to increase it at the second hearing, which the company has done.

“I believe we have a better abatement plan that we did initially,” De Friel said, adding the operation had the support of most of its neighbors and little opposition. “One of our biggest concerns is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”

But Buellton resident Theresa Reilly said she knows of dozens of complaints that have been filed, including two from her, and that she had personally traced the odor to the Central Coast Agriculture cultivation site.

She said the “zone of notification” for providing neighbors with company contact information should be expanded from 1,000 feet to include the entire city of Buellton.

“The odor plan we’ve seen for this project is insufficient to be able to assure there will not be odor issues,” said Marc Chytilo, representing the County Coalition for Responsible Cannabis.

He asked that it be expanded to 5,000 feet and that the use of low-odor strains of cannabis, operation of the odor control systems whenever the plants are flowering, annual terpene testing at the property line and expanded corrective actions be incorporated in the odor abatement plan.

Fifth District Commissioner Dan Blough also supported the project and didn’t want the “zone of notification” extended to 5,000 feet, which he said would greatly increase the company’s cost.

Some commissioners strongly favored the project as revised.

“I think this applicant is the cream of the crop,” said 2nd District Commissioner Laura Bridley, saying she didn’t favor any more revisions. “I think what the applicant has submitted is fine. … Today, I think this is the platinum standard.”

Others were not so enthusiastic.

“I’m very mixed about this project,” said 1st District Commissioner C. Michael Cooney, who was chosen to serve as vice chairman at the meeting. “[De Friel is] an example of an operator who has not done everything he can do to comply with county concerns.”

Cooney objected to metal shipping containers being used for storage on the site, but he admitted the project is better now than when it was first submitted.

“I don’t have a hard enough objection to say ‘no,’” he said.

Fourth District Commissioner Larry Ferini, who had just assumed the gavel as the new chairman for the year, saw it as “an excellent project,” and agreed with De Friel about the lack of an odor problem based on a visit he made to the site.

“When I did boots on the ground, it was in the middle of harvest, and there were no smells there,” he said.

Commissioner John Parke, whose 3rd District encompasses the site, said Central Coast Ag deserved some credit for responding to concerns and changing the project description.

“I favor this project,” Parke said. “It’s not because I’m rolling over to the cannabis industry. It’s not because I don’t care about odor. I favor it because I do care about odor.”

He said the adaptive odor management plan included in the conditions will provide better control and accountability.

Commissioners’ approval will allow Central Coast Agriculture to cultivate 22 acres of cannabis under existing hoop structures and mixed-light cultivation in an existing 6,594-square-foot existing greenhouse and 7,000-square-foot agricultural building.

Additional nursery operations will be conducted outdoors on 1.85 acres and under existing hoop houses on 4 acres.

Cannabis grown on site and up to 80% grown off-site will be processed in an existing 3,100-square-foot agricultural building.

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