Barista by Big Rock?

The immediate touchstone of an ongoing zoning controversy in Coupeville might be a “Big Rock,” but the issues involved extend well beyond the visibility of that one giant boulder.

In fact, the Coupeville Town Council was so overwhelmed by public input on the proposed rezoning and subsequent relocation of Miriam’s Espresso from the east to the west side of South Main Street — where the Big Rock resides — that they opted to continue the hearing at their next town meeting on July 9.

Judging from the showing at the meeting, there seems to be an even split between those who feel the property should be preserved intact — perhaps as a park — as a site of scenic importance, versus those who believe the proposed commercial use would suit the town’s character without unduly impacting the surrounding area.

At issue for many residents is the potential impact the relocation of the popular cafe would have on that area of town near Coupeville Elementary School, in the way of traffic congestion, stormwater run-off, historic appeal and, of course, the visibility of what some argue is an important geological artifact that was deposited by glaciers some 12,000 years back.

Town Planner Larry Cort estimated that approximately 50 people packed the council meeting Tuesday night, and that among those present there was a nearly even split of individuals for and against the proposed commercial rezone. Public testimony lasted about three hours, knocking off just before 10 p.m. with the council deciding not to take immediate action on the proposal.

According to Cort, the council left the record open in order to “give themselves time to digest all the documents that were submitted.”

The application to rezone the 22,400-square-foot property from Medium Density Residential to Town Commercial was submitted in October by Frank and Miriam Meyer, owners of Miriam’s Espresso. Under the town’s Comprehensive Plan, the area under question has the potential for zoning as a residential and/or mix of residential and commercial structures. The Meyers’ application proposes the development of a two-story, 4,200-square-foot structure, with Miriam’s Espresso on the ground floor and business offices above.

The town’s planning commission is recommending conditional approval of the application, requesting that any future structure be compatible with Coupeville’s historic/rural character and that traffic and parking impacts be kept to a minimum.

Cort said the primary concern for those opposed to the proposed development is that “whatever is built there would block the public’s view to the Big Rock from South Main,” though he added that there were other worries addressed at the hearing.

As the property is located very near the elementary school, many residents expressed concern over the potential dangers of cars coming and going as students walk or cross the street during school hours. Many also spoke to the general problem of increased traffic, especially during the hours of heightened ferry traffic.

Cort said there were also concerns “about how a commercial use fits next door to a residential use.”

There appear to be just as many positive issues brought up by those who support the proposal.

“On the other side of things, there was quite a bit of support for Miriam’s as a business,” Cort said. “Not just that, but a lot of people did comment that this was an appropriate use for the site, and with the conditions placed on a contract rezone, it would ensure that what was built would be compatible with the South Main area.”

He added that folks also argued that, if built, Miriam’s “would be a great gathering place for families.”

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