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Advisory Council opposes cannabis grow near Nipomo school

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A local agricultural company wants to grow cannabis on a 29-acre lot in Nipomo, but the project is facing scrutiny because of its proximity to an elementary school.

THE PROPOSAL A proposed cannabis grow by Nipomo Ag LLC would include space for indoor cannabis cultivation, commercial nursery, and the processing and export of cannabis products.  - SCREENSHOT FROM PROPOSAL SUBMITTED TO SLO COUNTY PLANNING AND BUILDING DEPARTMENT
  • Screenshot from proposal submitted to SLO County Planning and Building Department
  • THE PROPOSAL A proposed cannabis grow by Nipomo Ag LLC would include space for indoor cannabis cultivation, commercial nursery, and the processing and export of cannabis products. 

At its meeting on Aug. 26, the South County Advisory Council discussed the proposed grow, which would be run by Nipomo Ag LLC and include a 22,000-square-foot space for indoor cannabis cultivation, a 78,122-square-foot commercial nursery, and 35,328 square feet of space for the processing and export of cannabis products.

Although the project would be located in a low-density agricultural area at 662 Eucalyptus Road in Nipomo, community members are raising concerns about its location, which is about a half-mile from Dorothea Lange Elementary School. After considering various public comments and letters opposing the project, the Advisory Council voted against it, according to Vice Chair Kevin Beauchamp.

"On this project, we recommended denial due mainly to odor issues and its close proximity to residences and Dorothea Lange School," Beauchamp wrote in an email to New Times.

The Advisory Council's recommendation will now go to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission. If the commission's decision gets appealed, the Board of Supervisors would ultimately decide the fate of the project.

While some Nipomo area residents are vehemently opposed to the cannabis project, Jim Empey, assistant superintendent of business at Lucia Mar Unified School District, said the district is strictly worried about the safety and learning environment for students and staff at Lange Elementary.

As a publicly funded agency, Empey said the district can't take an official stance on cannabis. The district's main concern, he said, is that odor from the proposed grow could become distracting for students and staff on campus.

Cannabis products are illegal on school campuses, and teachers and administrators are trained to be on the lookout for the substances. If the smell from a nearby grow wafts onto campus, it might put staff on high alert, he said, or make it more difficult to sniff out prohibited products.

But Empey said the cannabis cultivation would be carried out mostly indoors, and the project proposal included an odor mitigation plan. All mature plant areas will be equipped with a Vapor-Phase Odor Neutralization System specifically designed to react with cannabis and eliminate offsite odor, according to the project description. The system will be suspended from exterior walls of all structures containing mature plants in an effort to hamper the odor.

The project is also more than 1,000 feet away from the school—the minimum setback required by law—so as long as everything is up to code and the odor is kept under control, "then our kids should be fine," Empey said.

But some community members say the odor management plan isn't enough.

Nipomo resident Tacy Lee wrote in a letter to the South County Advisory Council that the Vapor-Phase Odor Neutralization System has not been proven effective. The "skunk" odor will be distracting to students and teachers at Lange Elementary, Lee wrote, and regardless of the smell, students and parents will have to travel past the grow on the way to and from school.

"It is not acceptable for kids to walk past a cannabis grow on their way to school," Lee wrote. "What is the message we are sending to these impressionable youngsters?" Δ

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