Cannabis application map Buellton
The County Planning Commission discussed two cannabis cultivation operations on West Highway 246 at Thursday’s meeting, and continued the issue to September.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

County Planning Commissioners continued two appeal hearings for Buellton-area outdoor cannabis cultivation permits after raising concerns Thursday about the adequacy of environmental review, potential odor impacts, and overall compatibility.

These operations on West Highway 246 are near urban areas and existing agriculture (vineyards), have no requirement for odor control as outdoor grows, and are the largest marijuana farms the Commission has reviewed to date. 

Commissioners said they need to have more information before making a decision on the appeals, and whether the programmatic environmental impact reports were adequate, so hearings on both projects were continued to Sept. 13.

“It seems to me that this concentration of operations in this area, especially around our gateway (to the Santa Ynez Valley) can make a substantial difference,” Commission Chair John Parke said.

The Santa Rita Valley Ag, Inc. operation is at 7680 West Highway 246 near Buellton, and the application details plans for 37 acres of outdoor cultivation and 25 shipping containers (about 8,000 square feet) for drying and storage.

The applicant is Sebastiano Sterpa of Glendale, and attorney Linda Ash said the business owners include Rob Harvey of Pinpoint Leak Detection in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties; John Harris of Numeric Solutions LLC in Ventura; Richard Banks who owns several Santa Barbara County businesses; Don Pedersen of Ventura; and Sage Finch of Finch Agricultural Consultants, Inc. in Arroyo Grande. 

The Santa Barbara West Coast Farms operation has no street address, but is located about 3.5 miles from the interchange of West Highway 246 and Highway 101, according to the county. It’s two properties away from the Santa Rita Valley Ag, Inc. operation, a county map of cannabis permit applications shows. 

The applicant, Scott Rudolph of La Jolla, plans 45 acres of outdoor marijuana cultivation and 5 acres of nursery, processing and storage areas, with two new agricultural buildings, according to the county. 

Both farms would have on-site security staff and fencing, and boost staffing for harvest time. Representatives of Santa Barbara West Coast Farms agreed to the hearing continuance but did not give their formal presentation on the project Thursday. 

Blair Pence, of Pence Vineyards, appealed both cannabis cultivation permit approvals, arguing that the projects are not compatible with the neighborhoods, and will have negative environmental, visual and traffic impacts.

Pence told the Planning Commission that marijuana farms near his ranch property have already impacted his property and businesses; He’s lost income from horse boarding as clients leave due to the smell and intimidation of armed guards patrolling nearby parcels.

“In reality, the smell and these other effects never stop,” Pence said.

Linda Ash, representing the applicant Santa Rita Valley Ag, said the operator’s permit application complies with the current county standards and is entitled to the land use permit.

The proposed shipping containers — something the commissioners did not like — will be earth-toned and at the back of the property, away from Highway 246, she noted.

Buellton City Manager Scott Wolfe spoke during public comment to say the City Council doesn’t oppose cultivation, but wants it to be more considerate of adjacent uses.

The city is heavily impacted by the marijuana grows just outside city limits, with strong odors in the afternoons that are disruptive to residents, businesses and the growing tourism industry, Wolfe said.

Residents’ attempts to enjoy the community are “marred by the impact of cannabis planted in too near a proximity, in too high a concentration, and with too little regulation by the county to effectively protect them from the sensory assaults,” he said.

Cannabis application map Lompoc Buellton

A Santa Barbara County map of cannabis permit applications, in red, and approvals, in orange, show a concentration along West Highway 246 between Lompoc and Buellton.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

There are more than a dozen applications for cannabis farms along West Highway 246, between the city limits of Lompoc to the west and Buellton to the east.

The operations on AG-2-zoned properties do not require odor control unless the properties require a conditional-use permit instead of a land-use permit – and neither of these did.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors supported a long list of cannabis ordinance changes last month, including a ban on cannabis cultivation for inland AG-1-zoned parcels smaller than 20 acres.

These are the second and third appeal hearings heard by the County Planning Commission, which previously denied an appeal of a Carpinteria Valley greenhouse grow operation.

Acquiring a permit from the county is one step in getting cannabis cultivation approvals; Operators also need to get a county business license and state license.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.