Sungrown Wellness hopes for mid-2019 reopening

SANTA MARGARITA — In October 2018 the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission approved a Conditional Use Permit for a cannabis distribution facility and mobile delivery dispensary on El Camino Real in Santa Margarita near Highway 58.

At the time, said Sommer Shahan, co-owner of Sungrown Wellness Inc., the main block to reopening what had been a functioning non-profit delivering medicinal cannabis to local clients was the application process for a California State license under a newly approved business model.

In January 2019 they now have that license, and a location in unincorporated San Luis Obispo County, but they’re prevented from opening just yet as County Planning and Building approval processes are now taking the lion’s share of their efforts and funding.

The site of a formerly abandoned commercial building which Sungrown has cleaned up since taking possession in March 2018, was also once a real estate office with a few people on hand through the day.

One of the surprises in the last round of checks was that they were required to dig up the property’s septic tank access to verify that it was there, an expensive test that has its place in the County’s due diligence, but Shahan felt was likely unnecessary.

“I don’t think we’d have this much trouble opening an ice cream shop,” she said, noting that a mobile dispensary — administering the business and storing materials on site but sending product out to clients without customers coming inside — would have less impact on something like the septic system than the property’s previous uses.

There are also extensive Americans with Disabilities Act renovations which have a very specific set of checklists.

In short, it’s a frustrating position to be in as the dispensary marks a year since they shut down as a functioning, and legal, service operating under old guidelines to embrace the State and County’s new way to do things.

“I also don’t want to sound like we’re actually upset with the County. They [San Luis Obispo County employees] have been very helpful, but I think they’re asking for a lot because they’re worried,” she said, “We’re just trying to offer delivery out of Santa Maria with no other distribution. The County is working for everyone and they just don’t want to be sued.”

As an applicant in meetings with the Board and Planning staff, she speculated the unease beneath the surface in dealing with this brand of business venture is also responsible for the united front even traditionally opposed politicians feel pressured to present.

Expected hoops this brand of business jumps through, but an ice cream shop does not, include: an odor control plan, utilizing activated carbon filtration; a plan to replace and/or enhance the fence that surrounds the property; upgraded fencing and gates that are not clearly visible from El Camino Real; and no signage beyond a tasteful [according to the Santa Margarita Area design plan] address numbering which is clear from the road.

As no customers are going to be stopping by, hours of operation would be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

At the conditional approval phase of the hearing in October, no neighbors came out to complain about those hours or measures. Her impression, as someone from the area, is that locals are happy that the business will be there rather than a vacant lot.

The tentative hope would be that the dispensary will be ready to reopen with all the checklists marked off by June 2019.

“There is no official type of banking for this business,” she notes, so all money spent on getting the site ready is coming out of the past funds raised while operating under a different license, or from investors who are betting on the venture’s success.

An Atascadero resident, Shahan added that she’d personally rather deal with the business climate and planning and building departments of her hometown, but there is currently a flat ban on these operations inside City limits.

“It’s a discussion we’d like to have with the [newly elected Mayor and City Council],” Shahan said, noting that while yes, it’s frustrating to be relegated to certain zoning and land use restrictions in the County, then meet additional permitting hurdles, but they’re more likely to see that process completed before other options present themselves.

Asked about the matter ahead of a January City Council meeting, Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno said that voters had already weighed in on the issue of cannabis locally and that it wasn’t on the current list of priorities for revision.

At the time there were upcoming strategic planning and goal setting sessions at which the topic could be addressed but but Moreno said, neither Shahan or other business owners had broached the subject with Council.

Revisions to City zoning to embrace cannabis were not on the draft of the the City’s bullet point list for the next two year action plan as of press time.


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