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Zenleaf will operate a mixed-light cannabis cultivation and nursery facility in South Morro Hills in Oceanside. Photo via Facebook
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Oceanside council approves cannabis nursery in South Morro Hills

OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside City Council recently approved the operation of a cannabis cultivation and nursery facility in the South Morro Hills area.

At its March 10 meeting, Council approved two conditional use permits (CUPs) and a waiver of location requirements to allow Zenleaf, LLC to run a mixed-light cannabis cultivation and nursery facility at 5712 North River Road.

The facility will use an existing 20,000 square-foot greenhouse and construct three new 22,410 square foot greenhouses at the site. All of the plants grown and maintained at the facility will be in above-ground containers.

The facility, as permitted by both its state and local licenses, is allowed to cultivate and harvest cannabis for transportation by a licensed distributor. The nursery facility would allow the propagation of plants for both onsite use and sale to third parties. The facility would not be allowed to onsite direct sales or delivery to the public.

Gina Austin, a representative for Zenleaf, explained that the facility required two permits, one for cultivation and another for nursery purposes.

The first phase of the project would set up a cannabis nursery in the existing greenhouse to grow plants while creating genetic copies of them and selling those small plants into the state-regulated market. The next phase would build the other three proposed greenhouses.

In Oceanside, cannabis cultivation is no longer restricted to the medical market only, meaning the product cultivated at Zenleaf would have access to adult-use, also known as recreational, cannabis market.

Zenleaf also applied for and was granted a location waiver for operating within 1,000 feet of a residential zoning district. City code dictates that cannabis facilities cannot operate within 1,000 of residential districts without a location waiver, which may be granted if the site is “found not to constitute an overconcentration of regulated uses or impact sensitive uses,” according to city staff.

The site is located approximately 515 feet as the crow flies from a residential district, but the applicant argued that because the residential district is located across the San Luis Rey River and has no direct road or pathway to the project site that a location waiver should be granted.

“A pedestrian would have to walk over four miles to get to the site,” said Senior Planner Rob Dmohowski.

The facility is also not permitted to have signage indicating what it is and also cannot advertise what it is.

Several public speakers brought up concerns with the facility’s proximity to the residential district and other nearby locations like Melba Bishop Recreation Center. Dmohowski noted that the park is more than a mile away from the site and well out of the 1,000-foot boundary.

Staff also noted that although the residential district is located 515 feet away from the site, the nearest house is located more than 1,000 feet away.

Speakers opposed to the Council’s approval of the project also brought up the fact that Zenleaf is one of several cannabis facilities that the Planning Commission has approved location waivers for. Council also previously approved a location waiver for Left Coast, LLC to operate a medical cannabis manufacturing facility in October 2020.

“We really are sending the wrong message,” said Carol Green.

Austin addressed residents’ concerns about security regarding the site as well as its potential impact on the city’s children.

“This is a wholesale facility — it sells to licensed retail facilities and other cultivators,” Austin said. “It does not sell to the public, it does not sell to minors, it doesn’t advertise or have billboards.”

Austin added that the site will have 24-hour security, perimeter fencing, lighting, electronic card readers to limit access to the facility and secured storage.

“It’s a very secure location and will be more secure than what you would normally have in agriculture just because of the nature of what is being done,” Austin said.

Some speakers also brought up concerns regarding odor coming from the facility. Austin said the facility will use a “state-of-the-art” system designed by FogCo that will neutralize and remove odors through a duct system that won’t harm the plants being grown there.

Austin added that Zenleaf is also willing to be subject to a potential odor control ordinance that may come before Council in the coming weeks.

On March 8, the Planning Commission approved a resolution that would recommend Council approval of an amendment to City Code adding language related to odor control of cannabis facilities. At that meeting, a potential citywide odor ordinance for all industries including cannabis was discussed, but staff indicated they had not brought forth such an ordinance because they haven’t been directed to do so yet by Council.

At the same meeting, the Planning Commission also approved conditional use permits and a location waiver for a medical cannabis manufacturing and distribution facility located at 2949 San Luis Rey Road by Mohamad Saab of Buddiez, LLC.

Buddiez would be located approximately 68 feet away from the nearest residential district and 200 feet away from another regulated use cannabis facility. Neither Buddiez nor the other nearby facility, Medleaf Delivery, is open to the public.

Stefanie Cervantes, a planner with the city, explained to the commission that the reason why Council adopted the ability to approve location waivers was due to the limitations it caused potential applicants to find a place to operate.

“When you map industrial properties and throw in all the buffers, it limited where these facilities could go because most industrial districts are next to residential,” Cervantes said.

Cannabis facilities are also not supposed to be within 1,000 feet of churches without a location waiver. Cervantes noted the city allows some churches in industrial zones.

“This really limited where these (cannabis) facilities could go in our city,” she said.

Thus Council changed its code to allow licensed cannabis applicants to apply for location waivers, which would be approved on a case-by-case basis.