At the end of a lengthy public hearing on Tuesday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a conditional use permit for Big River Farm, a controversial 22,000-square-foot cannabis cultivation operation in the remote Southern Humboldt community of Ettersburg.

The Planning Commission narrowly denied the project in a 4-3 vote back in September, in part due to community concern about an alleged history of dangerous criminal activity and gun violence on the property, including an alleged gunfight in 2018 and a foiled kidnapping plot in 2019.

The staff report refers to the criminal allegations against the applicant, Ivan Illiev, as “hearsay,” asserting that “speculation rather than substantial evidence was the basis of the [Planning Commission’s] decision to deny the project.” The staff report maintains that “there is no connection between the perpetrators of the alleged kidnapping plan and the applicant,” emphasizing that Illiev was the victim, not the perpetrator, of the robbery plot.

Michael Holtermann, a planner with the county’s Planning and Building, said staff had contacted the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office multiple times for additional information about criminal activity on the property but maintained that “no pertinent information was received.”

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