Neighborhood outreach has been the name of the game for the Dry Creek Valley Citizens Advisory Council (DCVCAC).
The council voted unanimously 4-0 at its meeting July 18 at the Healdsburg Fire Department to put a hold on the cannabis application for New Tree Ranch until the applicants had reached out to all affected neighbors. Councilmember Bengt Ackerlind was absent.
In the interest of transparency, Councilmember Vicky Farrow said that she had run into the group just before the meeting during a drive-by of the property.
The DCVCAC makes recommendations to the county to approve or deny vineyard, winery and cannabis applications in the Dry Creek Valley area.
New Tree Ranch is applying for a one-acre cannabis farm on a 50-acre parcel at its ranch on Wallace Creek Road. Ed Newell is the applicant named. Newell said they have 120 acres total at the ranch, but were looking to purchase another 80.
Newell runs the ranch with husband Andy McDaniel along with several other experts. It already has vegetables farmed on site, and Newell said biodynamic practices are being used and is part of why he wants to incorporate outdoor cannabis, which he views as a powerful medicine when used properly.
The ranch plays host to visitors who want to learn more about sustainable, biodynamic farming practices as well as the farm-to-table movement during their stay. The experience focuses mainly on vegetarian cuisine, as Newell said slaughtering and butchering animals became unappealing.
Newell said he hopes to have a legal grow a year-and-a-half to two years from now. There had been a leased grow on the site before, though in the limited discussion of it, that didn’t work out.
Newell went over details of the operation in his presentation, including required fire mitigation and security measures. In addition, workers will be shuttled in during harvest and no processing of the plant will be done on site. Unprocessed cannabis is less valuable than processed cannabis and it is therefore thought that it is less likely to attract any criminal element to the grow site. For the same reason, no cash transactions will happen on site.
The applicants also said that water would be drawn from a reservoir on the property that is used as the sole water for the ranch. According to representatives of New Tree, it was their understanding that they have sole water rights to the reservoir.
Odor, another large factor in the cannabis permit process, was also brought up. The applicants said that though there is going to be some unavoidable smell during harvest. The acre proposed to be farmed sits 500 feet away from the closest
residence, which is also the only residence that may be able to see the operation through fencing.
Harald Hoven, who has been helping Newell with biodynamic practices, said they may also try to incorporate other plants around the area to try and mitigate odor. There will also have to be changes made as the grow happens and they learn what works, possibly building up more natural barriers such as berms.
Councilmember Ruth Wilson added that since the ranch would have guests, it would also likely be in the group’s best interests to mitigate odor for their own business model.
Neighborhood outreach was not up to the council’s standards, however, and the applicant’s readily accepted going back out and informing neighbors about the project. They said they had reached out to the immediate neighbors on the road, but not everyone.
“All this needs to be explained to the neighbors,” DCVCAC President Jenny Gomez said. “Just knowing that the outreach has been done … keeps people from feeling railroaded.”
Gomez also suggested that the group encourage neighbors to share their opinions in writing to the DCVCAC. She noted that not everyone had to be in favor, but cannabis farms can be “difficult for the community to accept.”
She did not want to see grows go back to the black market, however, and said based on the presentation, the New Tree Ranch application seemed like the type of project the council would want to move forward.
The applicants discussed with council how best to reach out. An open house was thought of, as well as compiling a full set of addresses to knock on.
One neighbor who had not been reached out to showed up at the meeting. Mark Farmer said he owned one of the vineyards on the back side of the property line. Odor was one of his main concerns.
After hearing the presentation, Farmer said he thought they made a compelling case. He said he just wanted to stay in the loop as things progressed and expressed confidence that if New Tree did the same for other neighbors, there should be little friction. He also offered to help spread the word for the project.
Farmer is also a member of the local COPE (Community Outreach Promoting Emergency preparedness) chapter and he offered to spread the word using those contacts. New Tree representatives invited Farmer to take a tour of the facility, adding they would like all their neighbors to come check out the ranch.
Vice President Bill Smith questioned why the application differed in some details versus the presentation, specifically that there would be processing on site in the application.
According to representatives, New Tree had been working with a planner that had since been replaced. There had been some timing issues which led to wrong information being included that had since been changed.
In order to have a clearer picture when presenting to neighbors, New Tree said they would revise the application and make it current before hitting the pavement, which would likely take one week.
New Tree will contact the DCVCAC when the ranchers think enough outreach has been done, then the council will consider when to add them back on the agenda.
The DCVCAC typically meets once a month. To get on its email list, email DCVCAC Secretary Sharon Pillsbury at email@example.com.