A rural Solvang resident said he intends to appeal the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission’s decision to overturn staff approval of a large greenhouse project.
Steve Decker applied to build greenhouses adding up to 15,648 square feet on his 5-acre property at 988 Fredensborg Canyon Road to grow vegetables, after earlier seeking permission for the same project for cannabis.
Staff had approved his application for a land use permit, which was appealed by Stephen Jacobs, who said dozens of neighbors also opposed Decker’s plan.
Near the end of an Aug. 5 hearing, the commissioners voted 4-0 in support of the appeal and to deny the project. They are expected to approve formal findings to support the appeal during a September meeting.
“To have a commercial greenhouse on this property would really be quite out of scale with what’s already out there,” said chairwoman Laura Bridley, who represents the Second District.
Third District Commissioner John Parke raised questions about whether the proposal would meet guidelines, including those in the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan.
“I could not make the finding that this is compatible with adjacent agricultural lands,” Parke said.
Bridley also expressed concern about the substitution of vegetable crops for the previously planned cannabis project, saying it would require county staff to monitor operations to determine if night shades were closed to avoid light pollution and to confirm what crops were being grown in the greenhouses.
Parke added that he wasn’t aware of any other greenhouse projects for vegetables in Santa Barbara County, noting that Windset Farms in the Santa Maria Valley grows tomatoes, a fruit, while Carpinteria greenhouses have been converted to grow cannabis.
Lighting from the greenhouses also sparked concerns for a community protective of its dark skies.
While the intended crop changed, other aspects of the proposal remained unchanged — including the types of greenhouses and support equipment such as the air-scrubbing system — from Decker’s cannabis proposal, which did not fit under revised rules. The similarities left neighbors suspicious about what crop will be grown.
“The concern from the neighborhood is we’re going to have to self-police that,” lead appellant Jacobs said.
Fredensborg Canyon Road has a number of residential properties, Jacobs said, contending that Decker’s project would change the neighborhood.
“We’re really counting on the county to help regulate to keep this neighborhood the way that it is,” Jacobs said.
He contended that the project was not compatible with the surrounding area, had an inadequate water supply and did not comply with county rules since it remained essentially the same as the cannabis proposal.
Staff disagreed and said the project was compatible with county land-use and other regulations.
Decker, listed as chief executive officer of Santa Barbara Cannabis, purchased the land in 2006, intending some sort of agricultural use, he said. Previously, the site housed a horse breeding and boarding operation.
“We just simply want to use our land in the manner that the county doesn’t preclude and actually encourages it,” Decker said.
Even with the greenhouses installed, structures would cover 9 percent of the site, leaving 91 percent as open space, he added.
He intends to use state-of-the art light deprivation curtains to block daylight intrusion and nighttime release into the Santa Ynez Valley’s dark skies, he added.
Greenhouses allow lower water consumption, fewer pathogen problems, better pest management control and more benefits for farming, he said, adding that growing crops in a sealed greenhouse can be more efficient than open land farming.
“It is the wave of the future. It is what the world is going to, to be able to provide food, and we are going to be a leader in that pursuit,” Decker said.
He said he had not decided which vegetables to grow, but believed the options are vast — and legal.
“We have explored enough possibilities that we believe we can have a viable plan for the use of this wonderful horticultural technology,” he said of the controlled environment from greenhouses. “Food science and its effects on health is a growing industry, and we are keen on being at the cutting edge of this — all on just 6 percent of our land. That’s the beauty of it.”