Francisca Benitez

Cove City Councillors and citizens alike stayed late into the night during the monthly city council meeting Tuesday.

Last month, only two citizens showed up to make a public comment, but there were at least 25 people at this meeting. Councilwoman Nate Conrad told The Observer there is hardly ever such a big audience at city council meetings. It was standing room only in the small Cove City Hall, with at least three people watching through an open window.

The meeting included a spirited discussion of a building that was previously an auto garage for 30 years. The business closed last year and was sold to Craig Mahlar and Shaina Craft, who plan to turn the building into a coffee shop and breakfast location.

When they filed to get a conditional use permit with the city, Mahlar and Craft found out the auto shop wasn’t in a commercial zone, nor did the original owner have a conditional use permit, which meant it was illegal to put any business there. Because the building is located in the middle of a residential zone, zoning is legally difficult. Citizens were very passionate about the issue.

“We were told we would be allowed to get a conditional use permit for the building, and then we were told we would need to get a complete zone change in order to use the building at all,” Craft said.

Cove resident Dan Landa said he had managed the auto shop in previous years and didn’t think it was fair to deny Craft and Mahlar the opportunity to use their newly purchased building to start their business.

“We want to see things grow here, I just don’t see what we’re benefitting from stopping somebody who spent a massive amount of money to purchase a property,” he said.

Some citizens were concerned a coffee shop would cause unsavory smells in the area, or if the property was rezoned and Craft and Mahlar ended up selling, a more unfavorable business might take its place.

The rezoning issue was the first and only item to be discussed during the public forum, which started at 7:30 p.m., but the motion and subsequent vote to rezone the lot did not take place until shortly after 9.

Councilwoman Lana Shira and Conrad both said they were in support of the zone change because the building was made for commercial use, so if the zone isn’t changed, it will most likely stay vacant indefinitely.

The motion to change the zone to commercial passed unanimously with one recusal from Shawn Parker, who said he had personal ties to the applicant. When the motion passed, it was amid sighs, dramatic exits and cries of “finally” from the crowd of citizens.

The rest of the meeting went quickly, with all motions passing unanimously. When the public comment section opened, things heated up even more.

See complete story in Wednesday's Observer