ROCKLAND, Maine -- Neighborhood complaints about the odor emanating from a local gourmet coffee roaster have prompted its owner to come up with a plan to increase the height of his roastery's smokestack.
The proposal by Patrick Reilley, co-owner of Rock City Coffee Roasters, was filed with the code enforcement office after the city cited the business for violating its odor ordinance, which could lead to heavy fines.
The rules barring foul odors are an outgrowth of the public outcry two decades ago when this city of 8,000 along Penobscot Bay was notorious for the stench from a waterfront plant that processed fish waste.
The closing of that plant set the stage for Rockland's transformation from a down-at-the-heels factory town to a mecca for the arts and a magnet for tourists.
Rock City Coffee Roasters is one of the businesses credited with starting the revival of the downtown economy, City Manager Tom Hall said. The company has been roasting coffee at the South Main Street roastery since 1999. Along with its combination coffee shop and secondhand bookstore on Main Street, Rock City employs 24 people.
"We don't want to put a very important cornerstone business out of business," Hall said.
Reilley plans to raise the smokestack 15 feet above the building to a level of 45 feet, at a cost of $5,000. "It will lessen the odor and disperse the smoke," he said.
Reilley also said he has changed the airflow and the roasting schedule in an attempt to address the problem of chaff, a waxy membrane on the unroasted coffee bean that becomes airborne and emits fine particles from the stack during the roasting process.
Reilley began negotiating with the city after it received complaints about the smell from Rock City's neighbors, Steven and Jeanine Lee, who own the house and commercial building next door. The Lees later moved to Thomaston but still own property next to the roastery.
While there were a few other complaints about the smell, others lined up in defense of the roastery. Reilley last month gave the City Council a petition labeled "Save Our Smell," signed by 1,200 people, including 350 Rockland residents.
The petitioners said they were not offended by the smell of roasting coffee from Rock City's building, but Code Enforcement Officer John Root said most people didn't experience the odors and thick smoke billowing from the stack when the city's ad hoc odor committee made its inspection.
"It's not the same odor you get when you walk by the coffee grinder at a supermarket," he said. "That's pleasant, but this was not."
The odor committee ruled unanimously in September that the smell was objectionable.
Root said Friday that Reilley's plan was "a step in the right direction."
"I'm happy he has done this," Root said. "The odor committee has expressed an interest in reassessing the problem."