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J.K. Café at Cobb’s Mill Inn gets OK

Site of the new J.K. Café at Cobb's Mill Inn. —Contributed photo

Site of the new J.K. Café at Cobb’s Mill Inn. —Contributed photo

A new coffee shop at the Cobb’s Mill Inn could be serving up lattés as soon as this summer.

On Monday, April 1, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to grant Cobb’s Mill’s owner, Drew Friedman, a zoning permit for interior work to turn a former gift shop into a coffee shop.

The coffee shop will be located on 12 Old Mill Road, and will be called J.K. Café at Cobb’s Mill Inn in honor of the late son of Elayne Cassara, Mr. Friedman’s business associate.

Ms. Cassara said she is very excited to bring a coffee shop to the Weston community. “It was a great victory,” she said.

The plan calls for the café to be open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch. It will serve coffee, pastries, soups, and sandwiches. There will be seating for 35 to 40 customers and wi-fi service will be available. Cooking for the café will done in the main restaurant at Cobb’s Mill Inn.

The permit was granted after a lengthy public hearing that started in February. At a meeting in March, an informal sense of the commission revealed that members were split on the application.

Complicated

The matter was especially complicated, according to P&Z Chairman Jane Connolly, because it involved a non-conforming property in a residential zone. She said the commission needed to do extensive research and review case law before members were ready to vote.

The Cobb’s Mill property is classified by zoning regulations as a “non-conforming commercial business” located in a residential zone. Its use as a restaurant predates zoning, and therefore a restaurant is allowed there. However, there are limitations placed on non-conforming properties. By law, their use is allowed to “intensify,” but not to “expand.”

The main issue surrounding the “gift shop” building was whether its use as a café was an intensification or an expansion.

Ms. Connolly said the commission reviewed 20 cases to determine the differences between intensifications and expansions. For example, in a recent 2012 case, Woodbury Donuts v. the Woodbury Zoning Board of Appeals, the court upheld a zoning board’s decision to deny an application for a Dunkin’ Donuts shop because a “fast food” restaurant was considered an expansion of a smaller restaurant on the site.

Cobb’s Mill Inn has operated as a restaurant for many years, but there are some differences between Cobb’s Mill and the proposed café, which the commission took under advisement in order to reach its decision, Ms. Connolly said.

“Cobb’s Mill is only open for dinner, and has different hours than the café. The café is really more of a takeout place, not fine dining like Cobb’s Mill. The menus are quite different — Cobb’s Mill is formal, the café is informal dining,” she said.

The commission also considered the café’s effect on the neighborhood. Old Mill Road is twisty and has a history of sightline problems. There was concern that a coffee shop open at rush hour in the morning could exacerbate dangerous conditions on the road.

After discussion and deliberations, six commissioners voted in favor of the application, with one member, Ken Edgar, voting against it.

After the meeting, Mr. Edgar said the commission took numerous factors into account but he did not believe Cobb’s Mill met the applicable tests for granting the permit.

Public support

The application received considerable support from the public. A petition was presented to the commission with more than 200 signatures from residents in favor of the café. However, Ms. Connolly said the commission could not vote based on public sentiment.

“We appreciated the public’s input, but the commission has to follow the law. The issue was not whether the café was good for Weston, it was whether it met a legal test promulgated by the [state] Supreme Court,” she said.

With the zoning permit now approved, the next step for the café is to get a food service permit from the heath department, a building permit, and a certificate of occupancy.

Mr. Friedman said he hopes to get the interior work completed and necessary permits issued in order to open the café as soon as possible, he hopes by this summer.

In future plans for the property, Mr. Friedman said he would like to construct a bridge across the river so people who visit Cobb’s Mill Inn can walk across it and enjoy a sculpture garden. Those plans aren’t under way yet, though. Mr. Friedman said first he wants to open J.K. Café.

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