Comments on local business dispute

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 6/2/21

HONESDALE, PA — Borough council president Mike Augello opened the May 3 meeting with some acknowledgment of a thorny issue between Honesdale and a local business called Black & Brass Coffee Roasting Company. In a dispute beginning more than a year ago, the borough’s zoning department was directed to investigate allegations that Black & Brass’s coffee roasting operations were in violation of Honesdale’s air quality ordinances. The business said it was also informed by the borough that roasting coffee is considered “light manufacturing,” which is illegal in a commercial district unless specifically approved through a conditional use permit.

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Comments on local business dispute

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HONESDALE, PA — Borough council president Mike Augello opened the May 3 meeting with some acknowledgment of a thorny issue between Honesdale and a local business called Black & Brass Coffee Roasting Company. In a dispute beginning more than a year ago, the borough’s zoning department was directed to investigate allegations that Black & Brass’s coffee roasting operations were in violation of Honesdale’s air quality ordinances. The business said it was also informed by the borough that roasting coffee is considered “light manufacturing,” which is illegal in a commercial district unless specifically approved through a conditional use permit.

Travis Rivera, who owns Black & Brass, posted about the issue to his personal social media, prompting word to spread across various social platforms quickly; a petition was soon created in support of the local business. Black & Brass announced on April 14 that, while its two Honesdale locations would remain open, the coffee roasting operation had moved outside of the borough.

“Those in power in the borough of Honesdale continue to create faulty claims and ordinances in order to hinder growth in a town that needs it to survive. Businesses such as Black & Brass... and so many more have brought attention and a young populace to this town... We need to fight against the past of this town in order to create a future, and that means standing up for small businesses that are trying to do the same,” the petition reads. At press time, it has garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

Augello noted that several residents had also submitted public comment on the topic. He read one email from Sonya Gregory, a former Black & Brass employee.

“It is rather transparent to many if not most local citizens that the borough’s attempts to undermine the success of Black & Brass has nothing to do with so-called pollution or light manufacturing, rather... a personal attack on Travis Rivera, who was a polarizing figure in the community,” she said. “What a dangerous precedent you are setting by trying to shut down the creation of local products made by local businesses who employ local residents.”

In a blog post on its website, Black & Brass challenges the notion it should require a conditional use permit to roast coffee.

“We crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i’ the borough had to offer. Our name even includes the words ‘coffee roastery’ in it. We weren’t hiding anything. If the borough thought we were doing something that wasn’t allowed in a commercial district, they would have kept us from opening our roastery in the first place,” the blog reads. “Said another way, in order for us to even open, the borough had to approve coffee roasting as a ‘principally permitted’ use in that district. They did that and gave us a certificate of occupancy.”

The blog further argues that the exhaust from coffee roasting is low in pollutants.

“The white stuff coming out of the pipes on our buildings isn’t smoke. It’s almost entirely water vapor—much more similar to what comes out of a freshly popped bag of microwave popcorn than the campfire you made last summer. There are small amounts of pollutants, particulate matter, CO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs); but for comparison, there are 500 times more VOCs in a standard gallon of paint than in a water vapor plume from a batch of roasted coffee,” it said.

At the last borough meeting, Augello followed the advice of the borough’s solicitor and read a lengthy statement regarding its dispute with the local business:

“Honesdale Borough, and particularly Honesdale Borough Council, have come under considerable public criticism regarding the Black & Brass Coffee Company, its owner and its relationship with the borough.

“While this matter may still involve litigation before the Honesdale Borough Zoning Hearing Board, and maybe even beyond, the borough believes it must comment on this matter at this time, especially because of the outcry for some response.

“Air-quality complaints regarding the Black & Brass roasting process first were presented to the borough more than 14 months ago. At or about the same time, the borough was contacted on at least two occasions by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding air-quality complaints at both locations.

“Upon its investigation, the borough zoning department notified Black & Brass that it was alleged to be in violation of the borough’s zoning ordinance due to its roasting operations at both of its locations.

“Quality-of-life fines were paid at both locations for other violation notices.

“Black & Brass did file an appeal to the Honesdale Borough Zoning Hearing Board... The hearing was postponed, and in late 2020, Black & Brass requested a general continuance into early 2021 to allow it time to remove its roasting equipment from the two locations. This was Black & Brass’s individual decision. The borough, of course, did not object.

“The Borough did not make Black & Brass move its roasting operations from town. It has chosen to do so on its own.

“The pending appeal, which still awaits word of its necessity from Black & Brass, has never gone to hearing...

“In the first few months of 2021, the borough was initially informed that Black & Brass would move its roasting operation out of town. Black & Brass indicated it needed more time to do so, and the borough acceded to their requests.

“The borough has continuously agreed to continuances of the zoning hearing.

“Notwithstanding the announcement that Black & Brass would relocate its roasting operation out of the borough, additional air-quality complaints have been received by the borough this year, thus prompting a reminder to Black & Brass of the pending violation and hearing.

“The appeal from that determination is still pending and may result in the hearing referenced above.

“Neither the zoning hearing board nor the borough council has ordered Black & Brass out of Honesdale.

“The apparent hundreds of people in support of Black & Brass are right to voice their support of Black & Brass, but incorrect to blame Honesdale Borough for the recent relocation of the Main Street roasting operation and the projected relocation of the Willow Avenue operation.

“Zoning ordinances are intended to protect people and property in the various zoning districts. The ultimate interpretation of these ordinances is left to the zoning hearing board, and if necessary, to the courts.

“At this time, according to its most recent notice to the borough, Black & Brass intended to forego litigation and move only its roasting operations from Honesdale.

“That relocation of the roasting operation will end this matter. Any further questions regarding this matter should be directed in writing to the Honesdale Borough.”

To read Honesdale Borough’s statement on the dispute in full, visit www.riverreporter.com/news.

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