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News: 02/01/2020

Advisory group gives support to cannabis dispensary

A proposed medical and recreational cannabis dispensary in Kenwood can now go to county decision-makers with the backing of the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC).

By a 9-2 vote on Jan. 22, the SVCAC, an advisory panel, recommended the county approve a use permit for a dispensary in the Kenwood shopping center.

The SVCAC also recommended the county grant the dispensary two waivers from physical setback rules.

The county cannabis ordinance states that a dispensary can’t be within 1,000 feet of a park, or within 100 feet of a residential neighborhood, and the dispensary location is within both.

However, representatives from dispensary owner, Sonoma’s Finest 2.0, successfully convinced the majority of SVCAC commissioners that there was enough of a “physical separation” between the dispensary and Shaw Park, as well as Mission Drive residences, to warrant county-allowed waivers from the setback rules.

Sonoma’s Finest’s David Scott was on hand to talk about the community outreach he and his partners have done, stating that they canvassed the neighborhood and spoke to people in 91 homes, with 57 people signing a petition of support, and nine outright saying they wouldn’t support the project. Scott also presented 14 letters of support from residents and local businesses, including some in the shopping center. A community open house was held at the site, formerly a tasting room, last August.

There was pushback from some Kenwood residents at the meeting, much of it having to do with anticipated traffic volume, traffic safety and parking issues generated by the dispensary.

“This will be a congested, popular facility,” said Kenwood resident Chris Koch, who disagreed with the what he called a “low-ball” dispensary estimate of 100 patrons a day.

“I have to believe there are better places, safer places to put this, rather than right off of Highway 12, with an inadequate left-hand turn lane and all of the congestion it’s going to create.”

Scott said that in response to community concerns, he believes a recent addition of a delivery service to the use permit request would help alleviate any shopping center parking and highway traffic issues.

“We’re emphasizing as much delivery as we can,” said Scott.

“I don’t see the Kenwood dispensary as being the ‘WalMart’ of dispensaries. This is a small, upscale, community-oriented dispensary,” said Scott.

Commissioners asked a number of questions about security at the dispensary.

Scott explained that an alarm system will be installed, along with video cameras. Plain-clothes security staff will be on hand during operating hours, planned to be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

No minors are allowed, and patrons must show a photo ID to enter the premises. Dispensaries are not just cash-only businesses anymore, as credit card options are now available, Scott said.

No consumption is allowed on site or anywhere else in the shopping center.

At the moment, it’s planned that people would enter from the courtyard side of the 1,250 square foot space, and exit from the back door into the rear parking area of the center. Scott said the interior of the dispensary will not be visible – windows will be frosted or have blinds.

After discussion, commissioners voted 9-2 to recommend approval of the project and the setback waivers. The motion also advised the dispensary to keep working on improving the traffic situation, maybe considering better signage and allocating specific parking spaces for the business, and also investigating ways for better access and egress into and from the shopping center. In addition, they recommended holding regular community meetings to get feedback from residents, and providing data on the numbers of customers to county planning officials.

After the SVCAC vote, Kenwood resident Chad Wyatt, said he still thinks it’s a bad idea.

“I really like and respect the Commission,” said Wyatt, “But their decision surprised me. I cannot imagine a worse location for a dispensary: an elementary school neighborhood, abutting multiple residences, in violation of two setback provisions, literally across the hall from the post office where our kindergarteners take their first field trip. This is exactly the type of place that the ordinance was supposed to exclude.”

The next step is a yet-to-be-scheduled formal public hearing in front of the county’s Board of Zoning Adjustments.

And more ...

Also approved at the SVCAC meeting were three related cannabis cultivation projects, all on property owned by Gordenker Turkey Farms in the area of Trinity Road and Sonoma Highway. Part is a resubmittal for a cannabis cultivation site that was in operation but burned in the October 2017 wildfires.

Proposed is 2.5 acres

of outdoor cultivation, 10,000 square feet of greenhouse grow, and 5,000 square feet of an indoor wholesale cannabis nursery. Also proposed is 20,000 square feet of centralized cannabis processing within a barn.

This is the first project in the county that would contain both a cultivation and processing element on the same site. Processing refers to the drying of cannabis, said project representative Erich Pearson at the meeting.

No manufacturing of cannabis – the extraction of oil – will take place at the location, said Pearson, and there will be no business transactions taking place either.

“The cultivated cannabis goes into a barn, then to our facility in Santa Rosa where we manufacture, label and package, and then distribute wholesale and to the five retail businesses we operate,” Pearson said.

Pearson said security measures include lasers installed around perimeter fencing, infrared motion sensors, a digital camera system with remote access, and security personnel on site during flowering periods.

An odor control and water usage plan were also presented to commissioners.

The SVCAC approved the projects unanimously.

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