Kaya Coffee House may face relocation, property sale


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Students and community members sit at tables on Jan. 7 at Kaya Coffee House.

A public notice in their window was all the warning that Abigail Chambers and Emily Miller received when they learned that their business, Kaya Coffee House, was facing relocation.

“Someone showed up at our shop with a big yellow notice and said, ‘you need to put this in your window,’” Chambers said. “We had no idea prior to that about a sale, rezoning or anything that’s now going on.”

Located on the corner of South University Drive and East Bellows Street, Kaya Coffee House has been a tenant in the old SBX Bookstore building for more than 15 years. Brad Ballein, the building’s owner, is in talks to sell the property to local developer Rick McGuirk.

The deal may hinge upon whether the property can be rezoned from a commercial area to a residential zone. McGuirk, the operations manager of United Apartments, wants to redevelop the property into multi-family residential units, and requested the rezoning on behalf of Ballein.

The Mount Pleasant Planning Commission recommended the rezoning request at its Jan. 5 meeting and the proposal now goes to the City Commission.

Commissioners must hold a public hearing before deciding on the matter. The earliest date the hearing could be scheduled for is on their first meeting in February. If the commission approves the request, it would take 30 days for the rezoning to take effect.

McGuirk has been working on the purchase of the SBX building since fall and said the property’s location is what interested him. He said the building’s history of vacancies and being surrounded by residential areas has left the property commercially unviable.

“When you look big picture and at the surrounding area, you could conclude that a multi-family housing unit close to the university would make the most sense,” McGuirk said. “I have no problem at all with Kaya Coffee (House) and I want to see them successful. I’m just working to come up with the best options for that property that make sense.”

Chambers and Miller took ownership of Kaya in 2015, almost a year after the SBX closed. If the sale goes through, Kaya would have 90 days to relocate, Miller said.

“We have met with a realtor and are meeting with another,” Chambers added. “Obviously, we want as much as we can to stay where we are. We took ownership to keep this place as original as when it was founded.”

Chambers and Miller frequented the coffee shop during their time as students at Central Michigan University and said they would prefer the building be converted into a mixed-use facility.

A mixed-use arrangement allows businesses and renters to share a property. 

With Mount Pleasant’s current zoning ordinance, and the lack of parking near the building, there isn’t an effective way to make the building mixed-use, said City Planner Jacob Kain. Mount Pleasant is taking steps to implement a new zoning code, but the process could take anywhere from six to 12 months.

There is very little information available about what that new code would include or how it will be implemented, Kain said.

“But with this new code I’m expecting that all properties in the city, including this one, will receive new designations,” he added.

Since news of the possible sale of the building broke, Kaya has received hundreds of phone calls voicing support, Miller said.

“It’s a testament to how much it means to students in the university,” Chambers added. “The amount of support from alumni and current students show that this place is an icon.”

Miller and Chambers said that Kaya has been doing well financially, but during the Jan. 5 Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Tim Driessnack, who once owned a coffee shop, highlighted the difficulty of competing with the university and the lack of demand in the area.

“Markets change,” Driessnack said. “There may be some mixed commercial and residential use but it’s going to be market-driven. From my personal experience it would be very tough and as a developer, I would be afraid of it.”

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