Surprise! Grace Coffee complies with zoning

BLYTHEWOOD – While it may come as a surprise to the owners of brick and mortar commercial buildings in downtown Blythewood, Grace Coffee, a small turquoise and white mobile home housed on a parking lot in downtown Blythewood, is now a business in good standing and is in compliance with the necessary zoning approvals from the Town of Blythewood, according to an interpretation of the Town’s Zoning Administrator Brian Cook.

How that came about is confusing to many and being questioned by some who run businesses out of brick and mortar buildings and have spent years adhering to the Town’s zoning and architectural review standards or face stiff daily fines.

But Grace Coffee is apparently not required to meet the Town’s standards for materials, landscape, paint color, sign and other things, yet is not fined for not doing so.

As the Town’s Planning Consultant Michael Criss, explained to the BAR Board Monday evening, Grace Coffee’s owner was initially removing the trailer every night as it had agreed to do when it was allowed to set up shop. But as the business became successful, the owner, Matt Beyer, balked at removing the trailer at night, Criss said.

Next, Grace Coffee wanted a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA).

The BAR met on April 17, 2017 to consider Grace Coffee’s request for a COA for its location in the parking lot of 208 Main Street.

Under what one board member described to The Voice as ‘pressure’ from Town Hall, the BAR reluctantly granted Grace Coffee a temporary COA for a period of one year. According to the Town’s former administrator, Gary Parker, the Town had no ordinance in place to address the vending stand, but Criss interpreted it to be a structure.

The temporary COA was supposed to allow the Town time to review and create regulations to address vending stands.

Adding another layer of confusion, Council was then presented Ordinance 2017.002 for consideration. The passage of that ordinance on April 24, superseded the temporary COA issued by the BAR a week earlier, and made Grace Coffee a non-conforming use, Cook wrote in a memo to the BAR. This also gave Grace Coffee the same zoning protections of other brick and mortar buildings. However there was no announcement at the time to that effect and former Councilman Tom Utroska, who voted for the ordinance, told The Voice that he had not been aware that, when passed, the ordinance would supersede the temporary COA.

Section 155.276 of the ordinance offers definitions of itinerant merchants and vending stands. Item B of the ordinance says that vending stands are to be removed daily and cannot be stored on property within the TC District – but that does not apply to Grace Coffee. Item C addresses nonconforming uses.

“Any vending stand in lawful operation upon the date of first reading of this section may continue to operate without regard to the daily removal requirement…” That, according to Town Hall, is Grace Coffee. It can now operate as a nonconforming vending stand in the Town Center District, according to the interpretation of the Town’s zoning administrator. And while Grace Coffee’s one-year COA has expired, the issue is moot if, indeed, Ordinance 2017.002 superseded it.

Cook drafted a version of the City of Columbia’s Temporary Vending Ordinance that has the Blythewood Chamber’s backing and presented it to the BAR Monday night for information. It will next go to the Planning Commission’s June 4 meeting for a vote.

Jim McLean, Co-Chair of the Board of Architectural Review, expressed his concern that the proposed ordinance will allow a temporary food truck vendor the potential to set up 365 days a year in Blythewood.  As long as they meet the zoning district requirement, locate at least 100 feet from the door of a lawfully established eating place, maintain within the food truck proof of written permission from the private property owner, receives annually a zoning permit to operate a food truck, move the food truck off the property each evening and operates for no more than 10 consecutive hours within a calendar day, does not operate between 9 pm and 9 am and the parcel on which the vendor operates is more than 400 feet from a parcel zoned residential., they would be eligible.

“I really have a struggle with the fairness of this,” McLean said.  “Are the brick and mortar stores being undercut?  They have made a hard investment in the town and are abiding by the regulations and restrictions.  The caveat of unfair competition needs to be addressed.”

There was general consensus that food trucks and temporary vendors associated with events would continue to be acceptable.  And there appears to be no problem with concessionaires and persons selling only seasonal merchandise, such as fireworks, pumpkin stands and Christmas trees are also permitted under the ordinance.

BAR member Alan George brought a “what if” to the discussion regarding the possibility of a tattoo truck setting up shop.  Cook said that if the vendor met all other criteria he would be eligible.  The question was raised regarding sexually oriented businesses (SOBs) being eligible under this ordinance.  Criss confirmed that the TC (Town Center) zoning would not have to accommodate the SOB use.

The BAR committee asked that there be some criteria addressed for mobile vending and standards dealing with the appropriateness of the vendors.

Criss said there are several options including adopting an ordinance to accommodate vendors, go back to only allowing them for special events or seasonal sales or something in between.

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