April 5, 2023

Discussion of Coffee Roaster Variance Is Carried to May Zoning Board Meeting

By Anne Levin 

An application for a zoning variance that would allow Sakrid Coffee to operate a coffee roasting facility at a branch they are approved to open at 300 Witherspoon Street has been the focus of two recent hearings of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. But the issue has yet to be decided upon, and discussion has been carried over to the hearing scheduled for May 24.

Neighbors have said that while they welcome the arrival of a coffee shop, they are concerned that the roaster would release volatile organic compounds into the air and create an unpleasant smell. The facility is located within 50 yards of Community Park Elementary School. But the owners of Sakrid, which has an existing location at 20 Nassau Street, say an afterburner they would install would address those possibilities.

At the February 22 meeting, Sakrid owners Jonathan Haley and Serge Picard said that relocating the roaster from its current location in Moonachie to
300 Witherspoon Street would centralize their operations in Princeton and eliminate the 110-mile round trips to and from the existing location. “Sustainability is the heart of everything we do,” said Haley, who is a Princeton resident and a volunteer firefighter.

Picard compared the roasting process to cooking popcorn in an air popper. “It sounds like a fan running as the drum rotates the beans,” he said. “The entire batch will take between 7 to 14 minutes. The aroma is a natural grassy smell as the beans heat up, and it transitions to a toasted bread smell at the end. The beans cool for several minutes in the cooling table once the roasting is done.”

At the March 22 hearing, Serge Picard’s father Gaston Picard, a professor at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, testified as an expert witness that the roasting process produces only heat, not an offensive and environmentally dangerous odor, adding that the fumes that come from the rear of an automobile were more harmful. “You will not smell it. It will be undetectable, even by your nose,” he said. “After the burner is installed, there is no odor.”

Some members of the public who live near the site said they disputed those statements, based on research they had done online and visits to coffee shops in the area. “If the coffee shop can exist without the roasting, that’s a great solution in my opinion,” said Peter Leach of Witherspoon Street.

Joseph Weiss, who lives on Leigh Avenue, said he objected to the use of Gaston Picard as an expert witness because of his relationship to one of the owners. “I feel it’s fair to point out that he is the father of one of the applicants. That indicates some bias in his testimony,” he said. “The board should view his testimony with a little bit of circumspect.”

Weiss added that the roaster would be too close to Community Park School. “Machines fail. We know that,” he said. “Is the board willing to roll the dice to allow this facility to proceed, and somewhere down the road, the device fails? What if a child becomes sick? Are you willing to accept that risk? This is a very bad idea.”

The president of the company that makes the afterburner will testify at the May 24 hearing, said William Hare, the attorney for Haley and Picard.