Surrounded by a bit of drama, the Brighton City Planning Commission met Monday night and approved a special use permit for a proposed coffeehouse and theater in the current location of a longtime woman’s clothing shop.

Following a public hearing, the special land use permit request was approved for Marcus and Amy Goller, who want to open a coffee house style café and flexible theater venture at 306 West Main Street. The building apparently changed hands one year ago, and is currently owned by Patrick Tortora. The problem is landlord/tenant based, since the building is currently occupied by Beverly Rae’s, a popular women’s clothing store that has been located downtown for 25 years.

The store is owned by Debbie Carley and her husband Tony, who have a lease agreement they maintain stands through 2023. They’ve retained an attorney and stated the new owner took over the building one year ago under “shady conditions”. They had a number of supporters in the audience, many of whom said they supported a theater concept but in a different location –further raising questions about already parking and capacity downtown. Tony Carley said they wish the new venture the best of luck, but it will have to take place after 2023. He says the Planning Commission’s action in taking a vote was premature, because they have a binding lease. He said the building owner told him if the permit was approved, then he intended to move forward and work to relocate Beverly Rae’s to somewhere behind Coney Joe’s.

Patty Phillips was among a group of Beverly Rae’s supporters. She says the theater is a good concept in a bad location, noting there are already two coffee shops on Main Street and two new restaurants under construction. She’s lived in Brighton for 18 years, saying the City has seen a lot of growth and development, making the traffic and parking situation very challenging.

Marcus Goller maintains they responded to a “for lease” sign on the building and went from there, saying the lease issue is between the landlord and tenant. Goller founded Ann Arbor based Expresso Royal that grew into a popular chain but says he only owns a small stake in the company now, thus the new venture is a private endeavor that would be a family business featuring a café and flexible theater venue. His wife Amy has an extensive acting and theater background, and works with youth at Brighton High School and recently directed two shows. Both said it’s nice to get over the permit hurdle but it’s only the first step in a long process. Marcus told WHMI it’s the perfect town center area to bring people to gather and socialize while Amy is excited to potentially have an opportunity for youth in theater in Brighton.

The planning commission is required to base decisions on city ordinances and requirements, which the proposed theater met. Commissioners were legally advised to not be swayed by the landlord tenant issues but whether the use met requirements and standards, which the majority felt it did. Commissioner Jim Bohn was the lone dissenting vote to grant the permit based on potential parking issues and a detrimental effect on surrounding businesses.

The permit still needs final approval from the Brighton City Council, which meets January 18th. (JM)