Neighbors To Coffee Pedaler: Don’t Peddle Wine
An East Street coffee klatsch is heading back to the Board of Zoning Appeals for a tavern license this September — and its neighbors are preparing to stop it in its tracks.
That’s the story for The Coffee Pedaler, a Goatville hangout that is aiming to celebrate its fourth year in business with a new tavern license. On Monday night, East and State Street neighbors vocally opposed the appeal at a packed and divided East Rock Community Management Team (ERCMT) meeting.
Since October of 2013, The Coffee Pedaler has operated as a cafe, open 7 a.m. through 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Since April, it has held a free Sunday night wine group on a BYOB basis, operating as a sort of bottle share among friends. Because it is not currently zoned to sell the alcohol, it does not do so.
But that might change if the 605 East St. spot scores a tavern license in September, when it it goes before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) for the first time since 2013. Earlier this summer, Coffee Pedaler owner Ryan Taylor and first-year law student Katherine McComic put in an application to serve wine and beer late into the evening. The two know each other from McComic’s own coffee venture with the Downtown Table, a Wooster Square coffee cart at which she served Coffee Pedaler coffee and tea this summer.
The license constitutes a special exception for the property, which is located in a BA or Business A zone. If it is granted, The Coffee Pedaler will be able to sell wine, fortified wine, beer and hard cider up to six percent alcohol and have longer operating hours, possibly as late as 2 a.m. It falls under section 63D of the city's zoning ordinance, which means it does not require referral to the City Plan Commission if approved by BZA.
Reached by phone Monday evening — he was absent from the Community Management Team meeting, after spending the day at a champagne portfolio tasting in New York — Taylor said he envisions the "after-hours" Coffee Pedaler as similar to to August, a nearby wine bar on Edwards Street. “Not a full-fledged wine bar,” but a spot for locals to indulge in Taylor’s own passion for Old World and natural wines, without getting drunk.
“We’re just trying to keep it classy,” he said. “To keep it civil. Like a cafe in Europe … Barcelona for instance. They all incorporate beers and wines into their coffee, pastry, food program. I want to present that to our same demographic that loves our coffee.”
He added that he does not intend to stay open through 2 a.m., and will close the shop nightly at 10 p.m. Those are the proposed hours with which he’ll be approaching the BZA.
“We would set our time frame to cut off at 10 p.m. or earlier,” he said. “I’m not aiming at getting people drunk, because honestly, I don’t want to to deal with that. There’s bars for that. And I want to be able to go to bed.”
But Taylor's neighbors weren't on board with that plan Monday night. Community Management Team Secretary Debbie Rossi, who asked not to be photographed, said she stood in staunch opposition to the special exception, and hoped that members of the meeting did too. She said her concerns begin with the fact that Taylor had been invited to the meeting and opted not to come.
“Literally I live two feet from the building … I don’t want to hear it!” she exclaimed. “As a business owner, he [Taylor] has not been responsible to the neighbors. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve asked to get off my steps, my porch, my driveway.”
She said that both she and her property have been threatened, and that she is sometimes unable to get into her driveway because Taylor’s patrons have parked there while picking up coffee. She recalled a period of weeks during which Taylor ordered construction, and materials turned up daily on her front lawn. Paired with an increasing shortage of parking in the area, Rossi said she can't give the exception a “yes” vote.
“It’s already disruptive,” she said. “I can only imagine how disruptive it will get if you add alcohol to it.”
"I understand he can't police all of his customers," she added later in the evening.
Susan Frew, a real estate agent with several properties on State Street, also spoke out against the exception. Tying the tavern license to the sound of un-mufflered motorcycles that already plague State Street, she said she is concerned that drunk customers will be loud and distracting for current tenants trying to sleep.
“Whether it’s beer or it’s wine or it’s motorcycles, it’s disruptive,” she said.
Together, she and Rossi proposed a show of hands and a vote: perhaps ERCMT members could halt the proposal with a letter.
Almost 15 hands went up in support. About six attendees opposed sending the letter. Of the few in favor of the tavern license, Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op Founder John Martin said that he “would be disappointed if he [Taylor] has not communicated with his neighbors,” but that he also believes in trying new ventures as a fellow business owner.
He added that one easy way of assuaging late-night concerns is getting to know “everyone on the street,” as he has tried to do on Bradley.
Ultimately, ERCMT Chair David Budries suggested appearing at the hearing, and asking the BZA to table the matter until Taylor had addressed the management team at their next meeting, on Sept. 25. In a later aside to Rossi, he said that “I feel like he’s trying to get away with something” by not showing up.
On the phone after the meeting, Taylor said that neighborly resistance to the tavern license may come from a misunderstanding. He said that Budries had called him a few days earlier to ask if he was willing to speak at an upcoming meeting of the East Rock Community Management Team. Taylor was mid-shift, serving coffee, and asked Budries to send him “a detailed email” with more information.
As of Monday, he said he hadn’t received it, and decided that it would be more helpful to speak with the group after the BZA had weighed in.
Budries tells it differently. "My conversation with Ryan was brief and casual," he said in an email after the meeting. When they spoke, he introduced himself as management team chair and asked Taylor to speak about the upcoming BZA hearing to the group. Budries said that Taylor "felt it would be more appropriate to visit with us after his BZA hearing in September 12th," because "he would then have more information to share." Budries told Taylor he'd send along an email with the Sept. 25 information.
"The word 'detailed' was never uttered," he added.
Taylor said that he regrets any ongoing misunderstanding before the hearing. “To be honest, I just really didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “I wasn’t to trying to avoid them, or anything like that.”
Addressing Rossi’s concerns directly, he said that a 10 p.m. cutoff will still make for a quiet street each night. So too will a cap of 30 people, only allowed to have their drinks inside the establishment. He said he does not plan on using the front patio after 5 p.m.
“I would be be concerned as a neighbor if I was here and if we went to last call,” he said. He confirmed that he has run the proposal by Coffee Pedaler clientele and fellow tenants in his building, owned by Jay Zand, but not by neighbors.
As it is, Taylor said one can hear the noise of the street late into the night anyway. There’s laughter from the surrounding bars, and the near-nightly disruption from motorcycles and dirt bikes. In other words, he insisted, the gentle clink of glasses won’t make a difference.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Frew mentioned dirt bikes. She was in fact describing motorcycles with straight pipes that race through the area late at night.