Cannabis project next to Pence Vineyards is withdrawn

In a surprise move, the owners of El Dorado Farms on Highway 246 west of Buellton recently pulled their proposed 35-acre cannabis under hoops next to Pence Vineyards & Winery, according to county records. The project had aroused strong opposition from some winegrowers and inhabitants of the region.

Blair Pence, who heads the Santa Barbara Coalition for Responsible Cannabis, a county nonprofit that has sued several out of 246 growers, appealed to the county’s planning commission last fall to call off the plan. Pence told the commissioners that the cannabis stench of El Dorado would jeopardize his tasting room and equestrian business and discourage wine tourism in the Sta. Rita Hills, the US federally designated wine growing area between Lompoc and Buellton.

“It looks like that project is dead,” Pence said this week. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Eva Turenchalk, an agent for El Dorado owners Kevin Kruse of Santa Barbara and his son, Ryan Kruse of Solvang, said their decision to pull the project at 1807 West Highway 246 “was made because of business interests. competitors for the Kruse Family, and was unrelated to the appeal of the project.

“For the time being, the Kruse family will be focusing on their family business and other interests, and so they have made the difficult decision that now would not be the time to undertake a new venture,” Turenchalk wrote in an email. January 3 mail to the County Planning and Development Department. In an email to this reporter, she added, “We are confident that we would have been successful on the appeal issues.”

The Kruses’ withdrawal comes amid a glut in the California cannabis industry market and a sharp drop in prices, compared to a year ago. Outdoor growers are the hardest hit; they cannot charge the higher prices that greenhouse growers get for their product.

contentious hearing

Prior to its withdrawal, the Kruses’ cannabis project, called El Dorado Gardens, had been heard by the commission on November 8 and was due for a second hearing in early February. Commissioners expressed concerns about the well water supply for the project and the lack of an odor management plan and complaints. And for the umpteenth time, they’ve expressed frustration with the county’s permissive cannabis ordinance, which doesn’t require odor reduction plans for large farm properties like the Kruses.

“Really, the original sin here is the prescription, and we can’t rewrite that, as much as we would like,” said commissioner John Parke, who represents Sta. Rita Hills.

Ryan Kruse, left, and his father, Kevin Kruse, come from an agribusiness family that spans generations in California. They withdrew their proposal from El Dorado Gardens earlier this month. | Credit: Courtesy of Slide Presentations to the Planning Commission

Pence told the commission that his asthma had worsened and that his wife, Dianne, had suffered from headaches for two years from the pungent smell of an illegal “crop” of cannabis in the same location as the proposed for El Dorado Gardens. The culture, which was under a different owner, was eventually raided and shut down in 2019. By then, sales of wine in the tasting room, the bread and butter of his operation, had plummeted, Pence said. , and one of the wells in the vineyard had started spitting sand from over-pumping for the pot next to it.

“There’s nothing theoretical about the effects here,” he told the commission. “We have already experienced them.”

The City of Buellton supported Pence’s appeal, noting that Buellton already experiences significant odors for several months of the year from the handful of cannabis grow operations currently in operation west of the city. These total approximately 100 acres and are located outside the Sta. Rita Hills. To date, the county has approved permits for approximately 335 cannabis acres in the Sta. Rita Hills; most of these operations are not yet operational.

“As the impacts of cannabis cultivation continue to escalate unabated as more cannabis cultivation is permitted, the people of Buellton have begun to question whether the county has their best interests at heart” , City Manager Scott Wolfe wrote in a Nov. 8 letter to the commission.

The county should “implement some sort of reasonable control,” either by limiting cannabis concentrations or requiring odor reduction and monitoring, Wolfe said: “To date, none of these actions on the part of the county does not appear to have taken place.

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Generational Farmers

As it stands, county officials said, the Kruses could resubmit the same or a different cannabis project at a later date, but they would have to start early in the application process and would lose their spot in line for a commercial license. below the county’s 1,575-acre cap for outdoor cannabis in unincorporated areas.

The cap was reached last month, and the county invited the first two operators on the cannabis waitlist to submit their business applications in place of the Kruses. These are Tranquility AGI, LLC, for nine acres of cannabis at 2753 Gypsy Canyon Road in Lompoc; and 9451 Cultivators, LLC, for 30 acres of cannabis at 9451 Batchelder Road in Los Alamos.

The Kruses come from a California agribusiness family that for generations has been involved in dairy farming, cattle ranching and growing crops for animal feed. In 2020, they purchased the 183-acre ranch west of Buellton, part of the former Skytt Ranch, and began growing raspberries, lavender and organic row crops there, in addition to to graze long-horned cattle. These operations will continue on the property, Turenchalk said.

The Kruse family had offered to grow 35 acres of cannabis at El Dorado Farms, a 183-acre ranch they purchased on Highway 246 west of Buellton in 2020. | Credit: Courtesy of Slide Presentations to the Planning Commission

County records show the Kruses proposed to harvest cannabis two or three times a year “to improve productivity on this historic farm property”, particularly on a narrow strip of land extending two miles from the Pences’ property . They planned to process their cannabis in a 17,000 square foot building they had purchased for that purpose in Grover Beach. The Krus also own and operate a cannabis distribution and manufacturing facility in Grover Beach.

The El Dorado team had argued that the project would significantly reduce historic water use on the property, as cannabis would replace water-intensive peppers, hay, and forage grass. Regarding the smell of past cannabis there, Turenchalk told the commission last fall that the illegal operators who were arrested had processed cannabis there, likely cutting and drying the plants and making the smell worse. , and, she said, they may have grown on as much as 100 acres.

Cannabis at El Dorado was planned for a “natural valley” well below the Pences’ property, over 1,700 feet from his outdoor tasting room, over 2,000 feet from his home and over two miles from Buellton, Turenchalk said.

“We really think our impact on odor will be negligible,” she said.

But the commissioners had questions on several fronts. They requested another hearing on the project so county staff could study how pumping well water for cannabis would affect underground recharge of the Santa Ynez River. They suggested the Krus consider two, not three, harvests a year and come up with an odor management plan.

President Larry Ferini, who represents part of the Sta. Rita Hills, asked the El Dorado team, “Have you considered a bigger pad? …Buellton is not interested in receiving more scents… It would be nice to see some goodwill expressed by you and your group. Do you have a plan, or are you going to just stand there and say, ‘It’s our right and we don’t care’?

Melinda Burns volunteers as a freelance journalist in Santa Barbara as a community service; she offers her reports to several local publications, at the same time, for free.

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