May 24, 2023

Sharing New Information Regarding Coffee Roasting Variance Application

To the Editor:

On Wednesday evening [May 24] at 7:30 p.m., via Zoom, the Board of Zoning Adjustment will hear a third presentation from Sakrid Coffee Roasters, LLC. Concerned neighbors feel that our air quality is threatened and ask every other concerned resident or parent of a Community Park School child to attend, listen, and voice an opinion.

Since the Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing on March 22, two new issues have surfaced that directly bear upon the inappropriateness of the requested variance to roast coffee commercially (process for additional “owned locations” and “for sale to others”) at 300 Witherspoon, which sits on the boundary of the Witherspoon-Jackson (W-J) and Community Park (C-P) neighborhoods.

The applicant claims that a proposed “afterburner” will remove “virtually all smells.” This was proven false by my visit to Rocky Hill Industrial Park where an afterburner is in use.

At the first business I came to, hundreds of feet from the roasting site, I encountered two workers and asked, “Do you ever smell coffee roasting?” The answer was “Yes, we smell it strongly, every time they roast.”

I conclude the same foul-smelling VOC chemicals will pollute W-J/C-P, afterburner or not.

I interviewed the NJDEP environmental specialist for air compliance and enforcement, who oversees coffee processing regulation in central New Jersey. I was told that if equipment is capable of processing “50 pounds or more” of raw material per hour, as is the proposed 15kg roaster, then NJDEP requires an Air Quality Permit.

Especially worrying was the NJDEP specialist’s comment that “while DEP mandates strict emission removal standards for the roaster,” it requires no emission control for what the Centers for Disease Control NIOSH Unit refers to as “off-gassing,” which occurs when 400-degree beans leave the roaster and enter the open-air cooling tray, where the cooling airflow pumps hot-bean emissions directly into the atmosphere without mitigation.

Further, the required Air Quality Permit may be restricted or withheld because W-J/C-P is designated a “lower income, minority community.” I was told New Jersey’s strongest-in-the-nation Environmental Justice Law would “likely be an issue” before any Air Quality Permit would be granted for 300 Witherspoon.

Based on these findings, I believe the Board of Zoning Adjustment should reject this variance and uphold the B1 zoning as written. No exceptions.

I respectfully urge the board not to establish a one-building industrial park in the middle of Princeton’s most densely populated neighborhood/most heavily-used recreational area, next door to an elementary school.

The applicant stated on March 22 that they would open their coffee shop whether or not the requested variance was granted. This acknowledgement reveals the variance to be a “want,” not a “need.” It takes off the table worry that economic development in W-J/C-P would be diminished without the variance. Coffee shop, yes; roasting, no.

We who live, work, study, and play in this neighborhood are counting on the Board of Zoning Adjustment to act tonight as Princeton’s Board of Zoning Protection.

Owen Leach
Witherspoon Street