OCAMocha, a community space and coffee shop originally slated to open in Arbutus over the summer, has been delayed until spring 2019 because of a drawn-out permitting and approvals process, according to officials from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“We’ve been learning as we go,” said Lisa Akchin, UMBC’s associate vice president for engagement. “None of us are experts in setting up something this innovative.”
OCAMocha, partially named for UMBC’s Office of Community Affairs, will be the university’s first permanent presence on East Drive in Arbutus. The university has been leasing the space, at 5410 East Drive, since March 2018, from FSJ Inc.
Akchin said Baltimore County has been a “fantastic partner” in providing feedback on what sorts of construction drawings and permits the space needs to apply for and secure before opening.
Although demolition work and some painting has been completed in the space since the summer, Akchin said construction work had not yet begun — but would soon. Part of the reason for the delay was a back-and-forth with the county on permitting for construction, but she expects “hammers to start flying this month.”
“We have been deliberately looking for local tradespeople to do the work as well,” Akchin said.
More a coffee shop than a restaurant, students involved with the opening of OCAMocha are in the midst of interviewing local coffee roasters and wholesalers to determine what suppliers to use, Akchin said. OCAMocha will have a “deliberately limited” menu — not yet finalized — so as to not compete with local restaurants, Akchin said.
It will also have event space, meeting rooms and the Office of Community Affairs, an organization that will work on items of “mutual interest” between the university and the Arbutus community, UMBC officials have said.
“This is meant to be a space that’s a mashup of the university community and the Southwest Baltimore County community,” Akchin said.
The UMBC students and faculty who have been pushing to open OCAMocha, as well as business leaders in Arbutus, hope the shop will continue to integrate the campus and the residential community.
To encourage students to spend time at the cafe, UMBC is going to start a 15-minute bus loop that will travel from the campus to East Drive. The university already has a bus line that includes East Drive, but the round trip from there to the campus is longer than 15 minutes, Akchin explained.
“And frankly we are hoping that students, faculty and staff will discover that it’s walkable in nice weather,” Akchin said.
Nearby Chesapeake Bank is providing access to 900 square feet of its parking lot for seasonal and outdoor seating.
Betina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association, described the process as “long” and “tedious,” but was grateful for the university officials who have continued to work with the community to “make it work.”
Anyone is eligible to apply to work at OCAMocha, not just university students, though applications are not yet open.
“Nothing ever works fast enough for me, I always want things yesterday,” Tebo said. But, “It’ll create a destination within the middle of the business district, in the commercial revitalization district along East Drive. We’re going to gain valuable community space that the community can utilize.”