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News: 12/15/2019

Use permit for Bennett Valley cannabis grow appealed by neighbors

Despite the opposition of many Bennett Valley residents, the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments approved a use permit (with a big condition) for a cannabis cultivation project on Grange Road in November.

Now, the Bennett Valley Citizens for a Ban on Commercial Marijuana Facilities has appealed to the Board of Supervisors, citing the project as an example of many things that are wrong with the county’s cannabis permitting process.

The group represents almost 300 Bennett Valley residents who have signed a petition to make Bennett Valley a commercial cannabis-free exclusion zone. Cannabis cultivation is considered a commercial use under county ordinances.

A total of 13 cannabis cultivation projects have been proposed in the Bennett Valley area, including one right next door to a proposed grow (and owned by the same property owner).

At issue in this case is a permit for a 5,000-square-foot outdoor cannabis cultivation project on a five-acre parcel at 4065 Grange Road. No processing or manufacturing are to take place on the site.

A use permit application was first filed in 2017, and the county placed them under what’s called the Penalty Relief Program (PRP), which allows a grow to operate while they work towards getting a cannabis cultivation permit.

At the BZA hearing and in many submitted letters, Bennett Valley residents stated that the project doesn’t have the necessary state license to operate, was accepted into the county’s PRP under false pretenses, that the access to the parcel does not comply with county and state fire standards, and is illegally using a road that goes across someone else’s property.

In addition, neighbors argued that safety and environmental issues have not been addressed, that the project will have a negative effect on property values and the character of rural Bennett Valley, and violates local Bennett Valley land use guidelines.

“There are many other locations where cannabis can be grown without controversy,” said resident Craig Harrison, speaking for a number of neighbors.

County officials at the hearing supported approval of the project, arguing that the application is abiding by state and county cannabis regulations, is consistent with Bennett Valley land use rules, will not significantly impact the environment, and has sufficient security plans.

The major condition put on the project was that the applicants have to obtain a way to access the property, such as through an easement, or from some other method, to reach the property.

“This is a good site for a cannabis grow,” said BZA commissioner Greg Carr. “It’s a small project, remote and not visible.”

However, Carr and others had a big issue with the fact that there is no current legal access to the site, instead having to cross private property to get there.

“I’m a little surprised the applicant came forward without clearing this up,” said commissioner Pamela Davis.

The BZA unanimously approved the use permit, conditioned on getting an easement or some other way to access the property. The applicant must show evidence of this in 90 days.

An appeal of the project’s approval will be heard by the Board of Supervisors at a yet to be determined date.

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