Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The Humboldt County Planning Commission last week approved the 8-acre Arcata Land Company cannabis grow on the Arcata Bottom. Approval came after the original 23-acre proposal was drastically downsized, with fresh assurances of ameliorated impacts.
The Thursday night hearing saw a freshened presentation by the project applicant, with significantly more support voiced during public comment than in the previous meeting.
Opponents – including the City of Arcata said they still consider the project too large and impactful, and insist that a full EIR be conducted.
The opponents, organized as Team 27th, have vowed to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.
Thursday’s meeting had been continued from March 18, when the commission heard public testimony mostly objecting to the project. In the intervening month, Arcata Land Company (ALC) – an entity created by Lane DeVries of Sun Valley Floral Farm – reduced the project’s scale by nearly two-thirds.
According to a staff report, the project approved last Thursday night includes a combination of outdoor light- deprivation cultivation (2.3 acres) and mixed-light cultivation (5.7 acres) in enclosed gutter connected greenhouses. Another 30,000 square feet of existing hoop houses will be dedicated to nursery activities.
The project will include an administrative building, propagation and office building, utility building, new onsite wastewater treatment system, unpaved parking areas, security fencing, and storm water detention basins.
Along with size, the project’s anticipated workforce has been reduced to 80 employees from the previous project’s 116, according to the staff report.
An existing agricultural well will provide water for the project, with yearly water demand for irrigation estimated at 36 acre-feet or 11,736,000 gallons. This is a down from the originally proposed project which required 52 acre-feet or 17 million gallons of irrigation water.
Employees will have access to permanent restrooms in the new building that will be served by a new private onsite wastewater treatment system for sewage disposal, plus temporary restrooms during peak harvest periods.
According to planning staff, all aspects of the revised project will be at or below the intensity of the original project, which itself satisfied all requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Thus, its draft Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration didn’t require revision. Because of that, staff again recommended approval of the Conditional Use Permit.
Land use consultant Jordan Main, speaking on behalf of the project applicant, summarized objections as being based on the project’s size, odor, air quality and greenhouse gas generation, distance from neighborhoods, energy use, chemical use, water consumption, night lighting and noise.
Main said the reduced scale project the objections “thoughtful consideration” to all the objections.
In summary, Main said, the downsized project is compliant with Humboldt County’s cannabis ordinance, makes no significant environmental impacts and “will still produce substantial economic benefits to Humboldt County through job creation and tax revenue.”
Hoop house water will be contained and won’t contaminate groundwater, he said. Traffic impacts will be limited to 80 employees driving to and from work, and the project itself will use only Foster Avenue, not 27th Street, Main said.
But opponents weren’t mollified by the assurances. “The facts given by folks against the project clearly indicate that at least an Environmental Impact Report is necessary,” said resident Paula Proctor during public comment.
But project supporter Tim Crockenberg said it will help pull cannabis cultivation out of environmentally sensitive areas “in the hills” and bring it into a well-regulated, pre-existing industrial facility.
That argument resonated with commissioners, as did the potential for retaining cannabis industry jobs in Humboldt County. Several noted the facility’s prior, established use as a lumber mill.
After abundant comment opposing and favoring the project, the commission vote 5–2 to adopt the Mitigated Neg Dec, make findings for approval of the Conditional Use Permit and approve the project, with Commissioners Brian Mitchell and Peggy O’Neill dissenting.
Following the meeting, Team 27th participants gave predictably poor reviews to the Planco’s performance in their email listserv, and made plans to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors.
That effort got a major boost when Greg King of the Siskyou Land Conservancy offered to match all donations up to $1,000 to fund the appeal.
A Team 27th spokesperson related the following statement: “Our neighborhood has been brought even closer together in the face of this challenge. We are going to appeal the decision made by the Planning Commission and we will continue fighting not just for Westwood but on behalf of Arcata’s interests and the interests of other unincorporated areas of the county.”
Opponents’ arguments are available at savethearcatabottoms.com.