Storm in coffee cup forces mayor from meeting
By Chris Conway
A storm in a coffee cup forced District of Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft out of council chambers Sept. 8 while council reviewed a series of bylaw complaints made against his business.
The mayor declared a conflict of interest and recused himself as the bylaw officer’s July report came up on the council agenda. Councillor Greg Anderson assumed the mayor’s duties as Taft left the council chambers.
The bylaw report included four separate coffee odour complaints, all apparently from the same person. One of the complaints referenced a “horrible smell of coffee roasting,” which was allegedly caused by Taft roasting coffee at his home address.
Taft owns and operates a downtown coffee and ice cream store.
As a result of the complaints received, District of Invermere staff required that the mayor obtain a home-based business license for the property and obtain a fire, health and building code inspection. The inspections were performed and a home-based business license was issued prior to the matter coming before council.
Acting-mayor Greg Anderson noted that council had received a letter from Shari Taft (Gerry Taft’s sister) on behalf of Mad Cow Refreshments & Investments Ltd. The company does business as Gerry’s Gelati and Stolen Church Coffee Co.
In the letter, Shari Taft stated that during summer, the company roasts coffee at Taft’s residence two to three times a week from one to three hours. The rest of the year roasting occurs about once a week. The letter stated that a home-based business license had been obtained, that the business was in compliance with applicable regulations and that the District of Invermere does not have any regulation in place regarding air quality or smell.
Shari Taft also stated that efforts had been made to avoid issues with neighbours including trying different times of day. “The reality is that no time will necessarily make everyone happy,” wrote Taft. “We deeply regret that we have caused concerns and nuisance to some of our neighbours. This was never our intention.
“It is unfortunate that the neighbours, who have raised concerns, have not done so directly. There have been jeers to the newspaper, posts on Facebook, complaints to Interior Health and District of Invermere yet no direct contact with the business owner.”
Taft’s letter confirmed that the company is searching for smoke treatment equipment and investigating other roasting locations. “Although legally and technically we can continue to operate indefinitely as-is, our intention and desire is to be a good neighbour and corporate citizen and not to cause concerns.”
Chief administrative officer Chris Prosser responded to a question from Coun. Justin Atterbury about normal procedure in similar matters. “In this process we went through a business licensing process, and a full inspection process,” said Prosser. “Probably a lot more scrutiny than most home occupations we see coming in and staff were independent and dealt with it based on the information they were presented with. So it’s certainly fully compliant but it’s the smell that’s difficult to mitigate and difficult to regulate as well.”
Coun. Paul Denchuk recommended that the bylaw officer ensure that the mayor maintain a clean site. “As far as our bylaw goes, he’s good to go,” said Denchuk. “Unless we want to pursue a smell bylaw.”
“No, no,” interjected Anderson.
“It’s a pretty tough thing to put parameters around,” agreed Denchuk.
“Up until now it seems that it’s been a little bit of a dogfight through the papers and it hasn’t been nice,” said Coun. Al Miller. “I don’t know how many times you guys have been talked to about this but I know certainly I’ve been pulled aside a few times on this. It’s just a case of as elected officials go, you have to try and lead by example. Everything from putting signs up in wrong places and not necessarily having business licenses and having to do all of these things after the fact to kind of catch-up is where we get into trouble. We have to lead by example so I think maybe we have fallen down in this particular issue.”
“Quite honestly I really like the letter that was sent to us,” added Miller. “That’s progress and to me that’s what should have happened right off the bat. It didn’t but it’s catch up now and that’s OK.”
Anderson noted that the complainant had not spoken to the owners. “I’d encourage them that direct communication doesn’t hurt,” he said. “If you’ve got some complaints about your neighbour that’s what you do. As far as the town is concerned it’s fully compliant.”
Mayor Taft then returned to the council chambers and council moved on with further business.
In response to questions following council, Mayor Taft stated that he first became aware of the issue through a column in a local newspaper. “This was the first complaint I had ever received; it wasn’t sent directly to me but rather published in a newspaper,” wrote Taft in an email response. “I have no idea who submitted the jeers.”
“It was against the (Columbia Valley) Pioneer policy to publish jeers that clearly identify a person or a business. Nicole (editor) indicated that she was away or missed this jeers and expressed regret that it was published that way it was. She indicated that if I wanted to submit a response, they would publish it,” wrote Taft. “The jeers in the Pioneer seemed to me to be as much a political attack as it was a complaint about the coffee smell.
“I never got to see the complaints, and actually never got to read them until they were added to the most recent public council agenda. I still do not know which neighbour(s) submitted the complaints. Around the end of July there was a further jeers on a Facebook group, and lively online debate occurred.”
Taft explained that although he had been roasting coffee for several years, and making gelato longer – and despite having a valid business license for his retail location, he realized that he did not have business license for the home-based business use.
“So I applied for that and had inspections from the building inspector and fire chief, there were no concerns and the home based business meets the requirements. A business license was issued in early August.
“When reading the public council agenda and discovering that the bylaw complaints were coming forward I made the decision to ask Coun. Anderson to fill in,” stated Taft. “I also knew that I could not talk to the other council members, or even submit my own letter to explain the perspective from my business as this would be deemed to be trying to influence other council members.”
Taft stated that his business had a right to be represented in the council’s deliberations. “I asked my sister to write a letter which indicated some of the points and future plans from my company’s perspective,” he concluded.