After more than two months of meetings, rescheduled votes and anticipation, the Bullets & Beans gun shop in Hamilton is officially prohibited from selling coffee.
The Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to deny shop owner Kevin Jones the special use permit he applied for in August 2017 that would have allowed him to sell coffee in the Retail Sales and Service Commercial District, since town zoning for that district prohibits food sales in buildings adjacent to residences.
Although the council previously announced that it would vote on a trial period that would have allowed Jones to sell coffee for six months while town staff assessed the impact it had on the town, the council voted to end the coffee selling idea altogether.
“I think they felt that after six months, their scare tactics and faux concerns would not justify the inevitable denial and it was better to do this now,” Jones said. “I think they could have saved us a lot of time, as opposed to jumping through all these hoops.”
Councilman Craig Green said that the pushback wasn’t necessarily because of opposition to a coffee shop, but because of opposition to a gun shop. Green justified his vote to deny Jones’ request by noting that a coffee shop wouldn’t have been a thriving business and that he had “no problem with the idea of a gun store.”
“I don’t see that coffee is going to change the math,” he said. “It breaks my heart to not see a business in this location.”
Town Attorney Maureen Gilmore said that if the council had approved the special use permit and if Jones had sold the property later on, the permit would have transferred to the new owner, who could have then opened a full-blown restaurant.
According to the zoning ordinance, restaurants are defined as cafés, cafeterias, sit-down restaurants, tea rooms, confectionary shops and refreshment stands.
Multiple residents also spoke at the meeting. A real estate agent said that the coffee shop would have added to the town’s value. “It’s a wonderful way to introduce people to the Town of Hamilton,” she said.
To that, another resident veered from the coffee-sales discussion and said that realtor.com studies show that gun shops lower home prices in communities, which he argued could equate to about $20,000 per house in Hamilton.
Jones and his wife, Tammy, said that they’re now going to work on a plan to sell lingerie in the 108-year-old bank building, which they can do without special approval from the council.
The market might suit it, too, given that Jones initially planned to sell coffee to create a comfortable environment for women in need of self-protection who are too intimidated to visit larger gun retailers like Gander Outdoors. “We have options now,” he said.
Regardless of what his business sells, Jones said that the Bullets & Beans name wouldn’t change.
Jones opened the shop in summer 2016 to sell guns and coffee and provide firearm safety and self-defense classes, which concerned Hamilton Elementary School parents because the shop operates within 1,000 feet of the school.
To gain the legal ability to sell coffee in the retail sales district, Jones in August 2017 submitted a special use permit and $1,500 application fee to the town. In July this year, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Town Council vote to approve that request.
The council was set to vote on Sept. 10, but determined at that meeting that it didn’t have enough information to do so. Four residents spoke against the shop at that time, citing pedestrian safety and increased traffic as a concern.
Some argued that customers would have to park at the town office and cross Colonial Highway to visit the shop in an area absent of any crosswalks, while others stressed that coffee sales would increase traffic during morning rush hour and interfere with children walking to school.
On Sept. 25, the council held a public meeting with Jones and his attorney, Caleb Kershner, to further talk through the matter. After that meeting, the council resolved to take a vote on Oct. 15 to approve or deny Jones a 6-month trial period.
The vote, however, was struck from the agenda. According to Gilmore, Jones didn’t provide the town with certain pieces of information in time for councilmembers to take an informed vote.