Board says proposed structures in rural Solvang ‘greatly exceed’ exemptions

By Janene Scully

Noozhawk North County Editor

A rural Solvang resident’s proposal to install greenhouses adding up to 15,648 square feet encountered another stumbling block after the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors ruled that more environmental analysis should occur. 

On Feb. 9, the board voted 4-1 to require additional review because the proposed greenhouses “greatly exceed” exemptions for small structures cited under the California Environmental Quality Act and require the item to return to the board.

Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson, who opposed the motion, had suggested approving the project with extra conditions so it could move forward.

Decker applied to build eight greenhouses adding up to 15,648 square feet on his 5-acre property at 988 Fredensborg Canyon Road to grow vegetables, after earlier seeking permission for the same project for cannabis.

After staff approval of the project, a neighbor appealed the decision, and the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission supported the appellant and rejected the project. That led Decker to file an appeal of the commissioners’ decision to the board.

Decker cited several county policies regarding support for agriculture. 

“Here’s the big one: Policy 1B, the county shall recognize the rights of operation, freedom of choice as to methods of cultivation — I choose greenhouse cultivation — choice of crop types or types of livestock, rotation of crops and all other functions within the traditional scope of agricultural management decisions,” he said. 

Neighbors have opposed the greenhouses, with several sending letters or speaking during Tuesday’s meeting, calling the Decker project inconsistent and incompatible with the neighborhood.

Along with the size of the greenhouses, other concerns focused on light pollution and whether blackout curtains would avoid affecting nearby properties.

Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said the additional environmental analysis could lead to other mitigation measures and create a better project more compatible with the area.

“I think what we would learn is how complicated this is and that it needs to be carefully evaluated so that we might have conditions of approval that would better protect the neighborhood,” Hart said.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann called the greenhouses “really out of scale in this neighborhood.”

“I have not met one neighbor who supports this project or feels it’s consistent with their investment back or expectations when they looked around and said ‘what is this?’,” she said. “It’s like bringing an industrial facility next door, and this isn’t what people signed up for in this rural residential area.”

Decker said it would be essential for the light deprivation curtains to be effective at keeping the light out as well as preventing light from escaping.

“I want them to work just as much as the neighbors do,” Decker said, adding that he would have to prove they work before the county would issue a certificate of occupancy.

Before the vote, Decker was asked whether he would pay the required fees for the additional review.

“Why should I?” Decker asked. “Actually, I’ve been approved twice for this project only to have it appealed. What happens if I don’t want to pay for it?”

If Decker declined to pay for additional analysis, county counsel Michael Ghizzoni said that the board would not have a CEQA-compliant project to consider for approval.

Nelson argued that the board had enough evidence to approve the greenhouses.

“This will probably mean the death of this project,” he said. 

Once the additional CEQA review is done, the project would return to the Board of Supervisors for reconsideration of the appeal, according to county staff.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at