The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted to enact a temporary moratorium on a ministerial permitting process designed to reduce the barrier to entry for small cannabis growers in the county at their Sept. 21 meeting, having found that the process does not achieve the results its adoption intended.
Since 2016 and until the 45-day moratorium went into effect Tuesday, Sonoma County allowed multiple tenants on the same parcel to bypass certain cannabis cultivation permit application requirements, provided they were not family members or part of the same company. According to the executive summary included in the agenda packet, this could allow multiple tenants to exceed cultivation restrictions while similarly underestimating impacts by operating a type of grow that would require a conditional use permit if a single permit had been issued.
For instance, parcels zoned for Land Extensive Agriculture can be permitted to allow a cannabis grow up to 10,000 square feet for a single applicant. However, under the multi-tenant provision, four operators could each get a ministerial zoning permit not subject to CEQA, public comment or administrative appeal, bringing the total area of cannabis cultivation on that parcel to a maximum 40,000 square feet.
“The multi-tenant provision was adopted to reduce barriers to entry for small farmers by allowing a property owner to lease to multiple small-scale operators who could each obtain ministerial zoning permits provided the minimum lot size was met and the total cultivation area did not exceed the maximum cultivation area allowed,” the staff report states.
“In staff’s view, the current standards do not appear effective at distinguishing truly multi-tenant operations that meet the board of supervisor’s original intent to include a multi-tenant provision that would allow for reducing barriers to enter the legal market for small farmers. In several instances the same multi-tenant applicants apply for ministerial zoning permits together on three or four separate, but sometimes contiguous, parcels. As a result, there may be three or four acres of cannabis that are subject to ministerial review instead of discretionary review.”
The moratorium will allow staff to review currently issued ministerial permits, of which there are 81 for 20 different multi-tenant cultivation sites, and another 61 permits in process. Current multi-tenant ministerial permits, which expire every 12 months unless another application is submitted, will be allowed to renew during the 45-day moratorium. The board directed staff to return with recommendations regarding multi-tenant operations at the Oct. 26 meeting.
The moratorium means that outdoor zoning permits will be limited to 10,000 square feet without a conditional use permit and permit review will be uniform regardless of the number of applicants. A county press release states that the move reprioritizes size, location and nature of any cultivation in question rather than the relationship between number of applicants.
“There is understandable concern and frustration among local farmers who are trying to do the right thing and are simply caught up in administrative delays,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said. “At the same time, there are instances of multi-tenant applicants applying for ministerial permits together on three or four contiguous parcels when a grow of the same size would require a conditional use permit if proposed by one applicant, including appropriate environmental review and public input.”