County planning officials approved a cannabis cultivation permit on land near Guerneville last week. It was only the third large-parcel use permit application so far under the county’s new legal cannabis regulations, and the second one in the county’s Fourth District. 

A marijuana grow in the hills above Guerneville won approval last week from Sonoma County planners, who praised the cannabis cultivation project as an example of “best practices” for local pot growers.

“This is a great project,” said Greg Carr, a member of the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA), which unanimously approved the cultivation permit on Sweetwater Springs Road.

“It’s a strong application,” agreed BZA member Ariel Kelley, representing the county’s Fourth District, which includes the grow site located on a portion of 225 acres in the remote rugged hills between Guerneville and Healdsburg.

Applicant Keala Peterson, who grew up in Sebastopol and graduated from Analy High School, lives on the property that is owned and occupied by her family.

Her mom started growing CBD several years ago on their property to help with her father’s pain issues, said Peterson, whose cannabis crop is grown for use in an herbal salve with CBD to promote pain relief. Her mother and father also live on the property, and her father, Arne Peterson, a retired firefighter with 24 years experience as a firefighter-engineer, oversees the operation to keep it “as fire safe as possible,” said Arne Peterson in a written statement to the BZA last week.

“It’s a family affair,” Peterson told the BZA at last week’s hearing. “It’s pretty much me running the show. I’m super proud to be doing this with my family.”

Peterson’s company, Flora Folium LLC, won approval last week for her existing outdoor cultivation area, occupying approximately 5,000 square feet. The grow is already allowed as a permitted business under the Sonoma County Penalty Relief Program, intended to facilitate the cannabis industry’s transition into legal compliance with the new state and county cannabis laws.

Peterson’s Sweet Creek Farm operation “is a fully integrated cannabis company,” using organic cannabis to produce cannabidiol (CBD) for an herbal salve that promotes “natural pain relief,” according to the Flora Folium website.

Although the Sweetwater Springs Road site is considered part of the Guerneville geographic area, the project was also reviewed last year by Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Valley Citizens Advisory Council, whose members approved the proposal.

A neighbor, Jefferson Finney, said Peterson’s operation represents the right direction for regulating Sonoma County’s emerging commercial marijuana production.

“It’s about time our county benefitted from the tax revenue from this booming industry,” said Finney in a letter of support.

“I’m 1,000 percent in favor if it,” Finney told the BZA during last week’s permit hearing, which was the culmination of a two-year slog through the county permit process.

Peterson’s perseverance “is testimony of her passion to farm marijuana in an environmentally safe and legal way,” said Finney.

The cannabis permit is proposed in phases, phase 1 being the existing operation and phase 2 comprising a greenhouse and barn for processing.

When completed the overall operation will utilize approximately 8,500 square feet, less than 1 percent of the total property acreage, said Permit Sonoma Planner Scott Davidson. The application is consistent with all the conditions of the county’s cannabis ordinance, said Davidson in his staff report to the BZA.

Retail sales and public visits to the site are prohibited as conditions of the permit, which allows up five employees on the site besides family members.

It’s doubtful any neighbors or the general public will even notice the grow is there, said Davidson. The cultivation area is nearly 5,000 feet from the Austin Creek State Recreation Area and almost 600 feet away from the nearest neighbor.

The grow is not visible from the road, the plants are fenced and, as required by the county’s cannabis ordinance, the property is protected by locked gates and monitored with security cameras, said Davidson.

The Russian River Fire Protection District visited the site to inspect emergency fire and medical access adequacy and found no problems, said Davidson.

The skunky odor of a marijuana crop, frequently an issue when cannabis is grown near neighbors, has not been a problem, said the Permit Sonoma staff report.

“We have not received any complaints about odor from the neighbors,” said Davidson. Overall, “There are no significant environmental issues” with the proposal, Davidson said in recommending approval of the use permit.

The Peterson use permit is only the third one that’s been approved for outdoor cultivation on a large parcel since the county’s cannabis ordinance went into effect, said Davidson.

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