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As SLO County continues to amend land use ordinance, residents raise concerns over their cannabis-growing neighbors 

As SLO County continues to work on its cannabis regulations, North and South County residents voice their concerns over cannabis cultivation in their backyards.

At a Nov. 29 SLO County Planning Commission meeting, commissioners discussed a request for a conditional use permit to establish 1 acre of outdoor cannabis cultivation on a property in Paso Robles. The project proposal included trimming and packaging of the cannabis product onsite.

During public comment, resident Larry Fluer said he supports the project overall, but because he will be the site's neighbor, he has concerns with potential odor and the impact the site will have on his property and property value.

"I don't have a particular hardship with having cannabis cultivation in the area, but I'd like to have controls that meet the intent of what the ordinance is trying to accomplish," Fluer said of the county's cannabis cultivation ordinance, which is in the process of being amended.

He asked that the commission consider an odor control plan for outdoor grows.

While odor control plans are required for indoor cannabis cultivation, they aren't for outdoor cultivation sites. There is a buffer zone required between the property with the outdoor cultivation operation and its neighbors.

Planning Commissioner Don Campbell said that the county has an expert who can help cultivators stop odors from escaping an enclosed area, but that it's almost impossible to stop odors outdoors so he wasn't sure what more the commission could do.

In November 2017, the SLO County Board of Supervisors adopted a permanent cannabis land use ordinance that would allow 141 cultivators to apply for growing permits this year—if they successfully registered with the county in 2017.

Pot growers would be able to operate outdoor cultivation on a 10-acre site zoned as agricultural or a 50-acre one zoned as rural land—it is not allowed on industrial or residential rural zoned land. Indoor cultivation is limited to sites on 10 acres of agricultural, 20 acres of residential rural, or 50 acres of rural zoned land—it's not allowed in industrial zones.

During a quarterly cannabis update in July of this year, the board directed staff to prepare amendments to the ordinance in two phases. The first phase went before the SLO Planning Commission on Nov. 8.

The discussion included proposed amendments to cannabis processing facilities, transportation, hoop and shade structures, fencing and screening, outdoor lighting, enforcement monitoring, noticing requirements, use of a residence, and legal access.

According to the current ordinance, outdoor cannabis cultivation has to be approximately 300 feet from the property line of the site or public right-of-way, whichever is closest. It must also be set back at least 50 feet from the upland extent of vegetation and 100 feet from any wetland.

Indoor cannabis cultivation is set back 100 feet from any existing offsite residences, swimming pools, patios, or other living areas of separate ownership.

Nipomo resident Thomas Ryan said during public comment that he lived downwind from several cannabis growers.

"Over the past year, I've experienced dozens of instances when the stench of cannabis has overcome my property," Ryan said. "On several occasions the stench has come into my home because I left the window open."

Public comment consisted of similar concerns with odor, the close proximity of cannabis cultivation in residential areas, fencing around cannabis cultivation sites, and a lack of notification with cannabis projects.

In an email to New Times, County Planning and Building Department Deputy Director Robert Fitzroy said that county staff proposed expanding the area around a new cultivation operation where noticing is required. At its Nov. 18 meeting, the Planning Commission passed the proposal, which will go before the Board of Supervisors for final adoption on Dec. 11.

Chris Cobey, the vice chair of the Templeton Area Advisory Group (TAAG), spoke to planning commissioners during the Nov. 8 ordinance amendments hearing. TAAG deals with development issues in the Templeton and North County communities. Cobey, speaking as a resident and not on behalf of the advisory group, reiterated the comments about inadequate notices for residents living near proposed cannabis cultivators.

"As the commission well knows, land use decisions can provoke strong feelings. This proposed revision helps mitigate these reactions and assists noticed recipients to better understand proposed projects and reach solutions working together," Cobey said.

Fitzroy told New Times that cannabis legislation is still in its early stages.

"We are working with the industry and the public to make sure we understand the needs and to ensure all parties are heard and the laws are understood," he said.

As of Dec. 3, the county has approved four land use permits for cultivation, two of which were appealed to the Board of Supervisors and two are still within the two-week appeal window. Seven more are slated for hearings before the end of the year, and 84 applications don't have hearing dates scheduled yet. Δ

Staff writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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