Public hearing set for downtown Farmington coffee shop

Farmington residents will have an opportunity on April 8 to weigh in on plans for Blue Hat Coffee & Gallery, set to occupy the first floor of the historic Masonic Hall in downtown Farmington.

Masonic Hall Blue Hat
This illustration shows how the patio would be configured if plans for the Blue Hat Cafe are approved.

Planning commissioners got a first look Monday at a proposal to repurpose the Civil War era building’s first floor, which the business will lease. Masons will continue to meet on the second floor.

Project architect Jeff Scott, a former planning commissioner and city council member, said business owners will make only “minor renovations” to the interior, including a new counter. The building already has a commercial kitchen, which was a selling point, Blue Hat Chief Operating Officer Phillip Jewell said.

‘Breath of fresh air’

Plans included in Monday’s agenda packet show a new, barrier-free ramp on the north side of the building and a small patio on the south side. Scott said a system of pavers will make the patio sturdy, and guests will have access through the restaurant.

“This project… is something that the city’s long awaited,” Scott said. “It’s probably one of the most underutilized, prominent locations in the city. I think this project will bring that breath of fresh air onto the site.”

Jewell, whose wife, Catherine, owns the business, said Blue Hat originated in Coldwater, in a renovated Civil War era home that he and his brother inherited from their mother. She listed the home, which was built by Abram Fisk between 1840 and 1850, on state and national historic registers.

Fisk raised Morgan horses, which he sold in the U.S., Europe, and Russia. Because Branch County donated more horses to the Union Army than any other Michigan county, the coffee shop is named after the hats worn by Civil War soldiers, Jewell said.

In addition to hand-selected, artisan roasted coffees, the restaurant will offer fresh breads, pies, and other desserts baked on site. Eventually, the shop will become a full service restaurant with a liquor license, Jewell added.

The proposal includes a significant change to the Masonic Hall parking lot, currently designated as an untimed, public lot under an agreement with the city. Scott said the five westernmost spaces would be reserved for Blue Hat staff, and the remaining 17 spaces would become time-limited.

PUD addresses zoning issue

Economic and Community Development Director Kevin Christiansen said the Planned Unit Development (PUD) designation allows for operation of the business on a site that is zoned R1-P, residential parking.

“The intent of zoning was to accommodate the use of the site… predominantly for lodge purposes and parking,” he said. Other options, like rezoning, were considered but the parties agreed that a PUD agreement among the owners of the Masonic, the business owners, and the city “was the direction, after a lot of dialogue, that was thought to be best.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to set the public hearing, with the exception of new commissioner Daniel Westendorf, who recused himself because he works for Scott’s architectural firm.

Scott said meetings are planned with the city’s Historic Commission and Parking Committee to gain their support. In addition, Christiansen said, the Downtown Development Authority’s Design Committee will weigh in.