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Grinding to a halt

Kevin Abrams, owner of Best Shot Espresso and the new Puget Sound Coffee Roasters company in Bremerton, uses a Diedrich Coffee Roaster to roast a variety of coffee blends for his expanding businesses. Abrams began operating the roaster earlier this week after receiving a permit from the city, ending what he said was a long and frustrating process to obtain it. - Photo by Christopher Onstott
Kevin Abrams, owner of Best Shot Espresso and the new Puget Sound Coffee Roasters company in Bremerton, uses a Diedrich Coffee Roaster to roast a variety of coffee blends for his expanding businesses. Abrams began operating the roaster earlier this week after receiving a permit from the city, ending what he said was a long and frustrating process to obtain it.
— image credit: Photo by Christopher Onstott

Bremertonians may love their coffee and the many espresso stands around town, but apparently the feelings change when it comes to the smell of roasting coffee beans. Phil Sehorn and Leah Rothwell, owners of Ootopia Coffee Roasters in Bremerton, learned that the hard way at a public hearing examiner’s meeting in City Hall on Tuesday. At issue is a special land use permit allowing the couple to operate a coffee roasting facility in their new building at 4910 Kitsap Way.

Sehorn and Rothwell applied for the special use permit last July and were issued an administrative permit by Chris Hugo, director of community development for the city. But the permit was soon revoked and the matter forwarded to the hearing examiner after a few residents living near the proposed roasting facility filed complaints to the Planning Commission about the possible adverse smells and noise created by the roasting coffee.

“Somebody not liking something doesn’t go into our decision-making, it has to be more substantial. Our decisions are based on city regulations and state laws,” said current planner Robert Grumbach. “The city works hard with people (business owners) coming in to make their project happen, but if they can’t meet the codes it can’t happen.”

At Ootopia’s hearing in City Hall on Tuesday, several Kitsap Way residents voiced their concerns about the roaster. Hearing examiner Ted Hunter said the case would be reviewed and a decision to grant or deny a permit would be given within the next two weeks.

Grumbach said the Ootopia case has set a precedent for all other coffee roasting businesses located in general business districts in Bremerton. Such facilities must now obtain non-administrative permits, which require a formal hearing and review by the hearing examiner before being issued.

Best Shot Espresso owner Kevin Abrams was in the process of applying for a special use permit for his own Bremerton coffee roasting facility — Puget Sound Coffee Roasters — when Ootopia’s first permit was revoked. He also had to go through a hearing to obtain hispermit, a three-month process that Abrams said cost him time and money by delaying the opening of his business.

“The city professes to be able to help small business move into the city, but they don’t make it easy for us,” Abrams said. “They put so many regulations and guidelines on me that it makes it virtually impossible for a person to do business in the city.”

In a separate hearing on Tuesday, the hearing examiner granted Abrams a permit for his new roasting facility, located in his Best Shot Espresso building at 3651 Wheaton Way. Abrams said Ootopia should also be granted a permit because resident’s concerns about adverse odors generated by coffee roasting are unfounded.

State regulations by the Washington Environmental Protection Agency and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency require that a machine called an afterburner be used when roasting coffee to eliminate any air pollution. Abrams said the afterburner, which operates at 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit and is attached to the roaster via a pipe, eliminates about 98 percent of any air pollutants and smells caused by the roasting.

“It incinerates all of the smoke that comes off the coffee,” Abrams said of the afterburner. “We’re not allowed to let smoke from the roaster out. We’re ozone-friendly coffee.”

Abrams, whose company is now roasting its own coffee, said his family moved to Bremerton to build their business five years ago because they thought the town was small enough to make a really positive impact. Though he is excited about his coffee business moving forward, his frustrations with city officials have left him with a bad aftertaste.

“If this had gone the other way, it could possibly have been the end of my company because the financial losses would have been too great for me to absorb,” Abrams said. “We’re a good, legal, growing business in this town and to have these things thrown in front of us by the government makes me wonder why I’m a business owner sometimes.”

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