Nipomo residents protest nursery because of traffic concerns

Jan Porter, who lives next to Viva Farms, holds a protest sign near the entrance to Viva Way in 2013.
Jan Porter, who lives next to Viva Farms, holds a protest sign near the entrance to Viva Way in 2013. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

A small group of Nipomo neighbors protested Saturday near the entrance of Viva Farms LLC in opposition to a nuisance in a quiet rural area – truck traffic.

Viva Farms is not simply a greenhouse, they say, but has become a distribution center and in doing so has violated county land use rules.

“The nursery that was originally there was a growing nursery and (was) sold to someone else and it’s been turned into a distribution center now,” said Patty Fuller, a neighbor who participated in the protest.

At noon seven protesters held signs and passed out flyers in front of Viva Farms as visitors passed by. Fuller said the traffic to and from the site threatens the safety of pedestrians and impacts the quality of life in the area.

Viva Farms owner Steve Pyle could not be reached for comment.

County officials say they’ve conducted extensive investigations in response to complaints from the public and concluded that Viva Farms, a large-scale wholesale facility, is operating as a greenhouse.

“We’re sympathetic to the neighbors because they’ve seen great increase in truck traffic over the last four to five years,” said Matt Janssen, a division manager in the San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building Department.

Truck traffic can be considerable during certain holidays, Janssen added. Even so, “this use of the site is consistent with greenhouses” as defined in the county’s land use rules.

At issue is the greenhouse section of the county’s land use ordinance, which was amended in the 1990s and left purposefully vague, Janssen said, because supervisors determined that “greenhouse operations involve many things and they wanted them to be successful.”

The regulations don’t specify how much needs to be grown on site in order for a greenhouse to still be considered as such. Nor does the ordinance include rules regarding hours of operation or truck volume, for example.

“As long as they are involved in growing plants and/or flowers and transporting materials in and out to support the growing or selling of those plants or flowers (and they meet all setbacks, etc.) they are considered to be a greenhouse,” Janssen wrote in an email.

County code enforcement has investigated two complaints regarding the use of the site, as neighbors alleged it was being used outside the definition of a greenhouse.

In both cases, county officials determined the site was being operated as a greenhouse.

Code Enforcement Supervisor Art Trinidade said the vast majority of the property is used for planting and plant propagation, but only about an acre is used for plant distribution.

Janssen wrote in an email to The Tribune that the ordinance was vague but “we do agree with some of their arguments (e.g., Camino Caballo is not wide enough to handle the really high truck traffic times), but that doesn’t allow us to rule that the use is not consistent with the ordinance.”

Supervisor Paul Teixeira could not be reached for comment on the ordinance and whether he would suggest any changes to it.