Potential Pot Farm Becomes Equine Therapy Center


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Savanah McCarty, founder of the nonprofit Wild Souls Ranch, is preparing to move six horses, one pony and a whole lot of tack from Loleta to Fortuna. The nonprofit, which helps provide at-risk youth with equine-assisted growth and learning opportunities, is working out the terms of a donated piece of property just off of Hillside Drive. The property, in the 2800 block of Nelson Lane, was a source of concern for neighbors in the mostly residential area when, last spring, a cannabis entrepreneur applied for a permit to create a 55,000-square-foot cannabis farm and processing facility.

Because the area was "an island" within Fortuna's sphere of influence, technically county land zoned for agricultural use, it met the standards for the county's cannabis cultivation ordinance. But Hillside residents concerned about odor, road traffic and crime, flooded public meetings to voice their opposition and eventually formed a neighborhood association to challenge the permit. In May, the Nelson-Hillside Association filed a civil complaint against the county in Humboldt County Superior Court. (The Times Standard's Will Houston reported on the association and its lawsuit.)

Rather than drag out the process in court, the would-be entrepreneur agreed to sell and formerly Humboldt-based accountant Marion Brown, who already owns a parcel adjoining the property, made an offer. Brown, reached at her home in Texas, said she had previously been interested in buying the land from her neighbor but the deal fell through. She said she has fond memories of riding past the place on her horse up to Headwaters Forest and felt the county had shown poor judgement in considering the long-term ramifications of the cannabis ordinance.

"I’m a believer in zoning," Brown told the Journal this morning. "The zoning in that area spoke to me as family residential. To me that [cannabis] use of the property would not be congruent with the rest of the property. It would open the door to unintended consequences."

Brown also got a nudge from her daughter-in-law, Tiara Brown, who both lives in the Hillside area and serves on the Fortuna City Council. On Monday, speaking before the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce, Brown said she had to abstain from speaking about the issue at city  council meetings when neighbors brought their concerns. But as an admirer of the Wild Souls program, she said during the process she had "been dreaming of having those horses up there." When her mother-in-law closed on the land on Oct. 4, she called McCarty right away.

For her part, McCarty says she is still "processing" the good news. At the chamber lunch, she called it a "dream come true" for her organization. It has been hard keeping it a secret for the last couple of weeks, she said to laughs.

"My initial reaction was excitement mixed with a little disbelief to be honest," she told the Journal. "They asked that I come and do a property tour with them and chat as soon as possible. I did a tour the next day, had a glass of wine with Marion Brown that following Sunday, where we worked out the details, shook hands and set a move-in date of January 2018."

Some details are still being worked out, but following the renovation of the barn and the erection of a new fence, it looks as though McCarty's organization might set up under a long-term lease. Fundraising for a new arena will begin soon. The previous location, a private stable in Loleta, had some issues with mud and weather exposure, which McCarty thinks will be eliminated at the Fortuna site. She also envisions eventually expanding. The program works with 30 young people and offers wrap-around services to two families through its new family treatment program established earlier this summer. The ranch doesn't use traditional equine therapy but, rather, connects youth with horses to "develop a strong sense of self, practice communication skills, and understand the importance of family values and relationships."

"The impact that this will have on our local youth will be huge," McCarty told the Journal.

The Journal has reached out to the cannabis permit owners who sold the land and will update this story accordingly.

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