Nevada County supervisors OK changes to streamline cannabis permit process
October 23, 2018
Nevada County Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to two changes to the local cannabis cultivation permitting process that will ease the process for growers trying to get legit.
They unanimously approved a pre-application process for temporary local authorization, an essential step for cultivators gaining a temporary state license before a Dec. 31 cut-off date. Both the local authorization and the state license are needed to enter the legal market.
According to Nevada County Cannabis Alliance Executive Director Diana Gamzon, it could take up to six months for someone to obtain an annual state license, and that's after getting local authorization.
Community Development Agency Director Sean Powers told the supervisors there is a timeline problem because the state's temporary licenses are set to expire at the end of the year. The state cannot guarantee any temporary licenses applied for after Dec. 1 will be processed, with 1,000 applicants currently in the queue.
Creating temporary local authorization will provide a path for compliance under the permanent ordinance currently under discussion by the board, he said. The process will involve an administrative review of the pre-application for conditional approval, to ensure compliance with the draft ordinance. Some of those requirements, he noted, include a primary residence on site, a legal water source, compliant zoning and minimum parcel size.
No cultivation or growing will be allowed under the temporary local authorization until the county's pending Environmental Impact Review is complete, currently with a target date is May 1; the new cannabis cultivation ordinance has been adopted; and county staff can inspect the property for compliance.
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If growers intend to apply for a permit in 2019, they should get this temporary local authorization, Powers said, adding. "This is simply to preserve (your) place in line."
County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green stressed that this authorization should run concurrently with the state temporary license process, language that was added to the motion.
Those who spoke during public comment thanked the county for working with growers to expedite the approval process.
"This is not a short process … this is not an easy process," said Barbara Jones, who said she had been working on getting permit approval since July. "People like me want to do this right."
Wade Laughter warned that a number of cultivators have been forced out of the area because they have not been able to negotiate the permit process.
"The more (growers) we can get into the system, the better this will work," he said. "It will be better for the community, better for the environment and better for the economy."
Gamzon expressed concern about a requirement that there needed to be prior cultivation on a site, saying there might be local farmers whose existing land is not eligible for cultivation but who want to continue cultivating here on different parcels.
Powers said the language of the permit process will allow county staff to work with applicants on a case by case basis, as long as there would be no new significant environmental impact.
Change to administrative permit
The second major change approved by the board will streamline the draft ordinance permitting process.
The change removes the requirement for a Conditional Use Permit for cultivation sites larger than 2,500-square-feet and up to 10,000-square-feet and instead requires an Administrative Development Permit. An annual permit will be required for cultivation sites smaller than 2,500 square feet.
Administrative Development Permits do not require public notice and have quicker processing timelines. Criteria still need to be met, however.
A proposed change to the administrative permit that would institute public notification drew safety concerns from the cannabis community.
According to Nevada County Planning Director Brian Foss, notification would involve a letter that describes what is being applied for, which would be mailed to neighboring properties. That letter would not be posted online, he said. Then if the permit was approved — or denied — anyone can appeal that decision within 10 days.
Supervisor Dan Miller said public notification was part of being a good neighbor. Supervisor Heidi Hall disagreed, calling it a public outing that would gain the county nothing.
"All we would do is expose people's location," she said, adding that any concerns raised would not be able to be addressed.
"We don't necessarily gain any benefit except for, perhaps, transparency," Supervisor Richard Anderson said, suggesting letting the permit process play out and prioritizing existing grows.
In the end, the supervisors agreed that complaints on issues like odor would best be addressed through the ordinance rather than through the permit process. The amendment was approved on 4-1 vote with Miller voting no.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.