Boston Restaurant Talk reports the Zoning Board of Appeals squashed Villa Mexico's request to move from its current location in a Cambridge Street gas station around the corner. Maybe a bank could move in instead.
Especially if it was already a food-related business, what was the reason for nixing this?
Many of the old buildings on Beacon Hill's north slope had spaces for small shops. This was an understandably useful around 1900+- when the buildings were built. Not so much any more. Most of these spaces have been converted to apartments. Two or three are laundromats, a couple are Real Estate, one a gym, there are a few personal care from a barber to a hair salon. The space in question used to be barbershop. It is fairly small and surrounded by small residential units. The abutters have stopped this based on concern about noise, etc.
What I don't get is why they don't go for some other other empty places on Cambridge St. There is a restaurant space, fairly large, that has sat empty for 3 years a hundred yards from their current location. Dunkin Donuts was blocked from that sight because of concern about cars stopping for the so called "quick cup" and blocking traffic.
One of the other spaces currently sitting empty is rumored to be going to TD Bank.
I know in the past neighbors have pushed for non food related businesses along Cambridge St (there are over 20 in just over a half mile), but there really isn't demand for much.
The spot they wanted to move into was a residential building on a residential street. There had been a barber shop there years before, but it has been residential for a long time.
Everyone in the neighborhood loves Julie; plenty of neighbors were scrambling to help her find clean, legal, and cheap space; but the principle of no commercial expansion into residential streets is a strong one, and if you start bending the rules for someone you like, then you set a precedent and you have to bend the rules for the next person who comes along with an application,and so forth.
This is not a rule of nature. It is an explicit decision to forbid the mixing of uses. It's also an inherently anti-city attitude.
There is no sane reason why residences and compatible businesses cannot mix. There are plenty of insane zoning codes, however.
Some resident(s) have decided that they don't want "their kind" (Burrito shop? Mexicans? Something like that...) opening up on Beacon Hill. The space could be "better used" according to the resident(s). They apparently also have some political force behind them because both the leasee and the leaser are interested in making this work but the city is constantly hampering this...seemingly at the behest of the resident(s).
You should read the blog of the restaurant's owner. She details her meetings with the city over zoning/licensing/etc. Where she expects to have zero resistance, she finds total resistance. Where she expects a meeting to be to her benefit, it's held as if there had already been discussion in her absence a priori that has led to a predetermination that she can't open her shop there.
You seem unclear on what this is about. No, not "their kind", but a restaurant / take-out on a side street.
Glad I could clear that up for you.
I'm glad they found reasons that ignore the fact that it was last used as a commercial space. The location is less than 4 car lengths from Cambridge St. It's hardly knee deep in residences...and so what if it is? Welcome to A CITY.
Do you know what the Civic Association director told her to do? Get a food truck. That's not exactly a friendly invitation to set up shop in the neighborhood.
If this were a cupcake shop, I have a suspicion that none of this would be happening.
I'm glad they found reasons that ignore the fact that it was last used as a commercial space
"Glad they found reasons," as in, "that's what the law says?" We're not talking about some esoteric aspect of the law here; if you give up a nonconforming use, you lose your grandfathered-in status very quickly; this place was last used commercially a very long time ago.
The 4x4 bricks of zoning in the original SimCity have been updated to allow for reality.
The "law says" whatever we want it to say. By acting so structured to the law, the city has generated a situation where the street front is deteriorated. Here, you have a perfect fit of a tiny business willing to regenerate a tiny space that may take decades more to be converted to "residential" space. Instead, the decision to stick by the "law" has allowed the neighborhood to "unite" which evidently burritos wouldn't have accomplished.
Which you could say is only natural. Hollow-hearted people in charge get to continue uniting with their hollowed-out barber shop storefront. Congratulations. Go print out a copy of the zoning law and celebrate with it. I'm sure it's happy that you sided with it instead of the women looking to keep making burritos for you.
Talk to anyone who lives on Hanover street and ask if they don't wish their parents had done a better job keeping down the expansion of commercial businesses into their neighborhood. It's now a crappy place to live as a result.
It's not about one restaurant wanting to move into one residential building. No decision stands alone; every decision becomes precedent. So the issue at hand is not "Should Julie be allowed to move into the former barbershop?", it's "Should the streets on the interior of Beacon Hill become commercial?" The answer, in this case, was "no". Nobody's imposing any hardship on Julie; the fact that anyone wants to make this personal, or racial / ethnic, or about the type of business, is truly unfortunate.
Their parents were alive in the 1870's?
Hanover Street, circa 1876
Find a new talking point. Hanover Street has been mixed commercial/residential space since the MID-19th CENTURY.
As for worrying about "precedence"...how about the fact that that location was most recently a barber shop as a PRECEDENT! Of course, you probably only moved into the neighborhood less than 20 years ago, so you wouldn't know that it used to be a commercial space...and the rest of the street survived without the whole place turning into Hanover Street, imagine that. Also, how many other dead store fronts are left in Beacon Hill? Do you think everyone's suddenly going to punch 10'x20' holes into the street-front of their homes just to get a taste of that sweet, sweet Ma'n'Pa take-out sandwich joint business that's growing out of control these days?
Right...nobody's imposing any hardship on her...they're just watching someone else pull the rug out from under her feet and letting gravity smack her in the face while they just pull the table away that she was hoping to catch her balance on. It's all gravity's fault. Whatever helps you sleep at night.
Now just get rid of the horses, bring the buildings up to modern health and safety codes, and you've got a city neighborhood. A real one.
Wouldn't mind keeping the trolley (electrified of course) either.
You might be surprised, but I agree completely. And I love the 1960s picture that shows Scollay Sq ("An obsolete neighborhood") right beside the artis's rendering of hideous, sterile, Government Center ("And its modern replacement.") I love it because, as a preservation architect once said to me, "You know, all you have to do is switch the two captions and a lot of us would agree with that photo."
The huge difference between "Mixed residential and commerical" of 1876 Hanover street and the modern one, is that the businesses on 1876 Hanover street serve people who live there. Not convention attendees or suburban commuters. And they're locally owned, not outposts of Bank of America or Abercrombie & Fitch.
Yay we both agree! Although neighborhoods do change over time, what's happened to the North End is because of its nearly unique status within Boston. It had remained a truly urban neighborhood in the core, while most everything else was bulldozed or "renewed" away.
It was cut off from the city. Then this "civic center" of government buildings and tourist traps was built up nearby. So the North End has come to be treated more like an exhibit than a neighborhood. That's the root of the problem, not the mixed residential and commercial which has been there for centuries.
These changes would be a lot more gradual and easier to absorb if there were other parts of town nearby to spread them out. What's there now? Charles River Park may as well be another planet. Beacon Hill is a museum. Chinatown has its own issues. The rest of downtown is largely commercial/government space with some "luxury apts" here and there.
Go talk to someone in the north end. Hanover Street until at least the 1960s served the North End; it wasn't packed with restaurants that serve the tourist / convention / suburban trade.
As for the ad hominem, no, I remember the barber shop. I remember the other little businesses on Grove, and the grocery stores on Myrtle.
As for the PRECEDNT argument, that dog don't hunt. Sure, the place was once commercial. It was also once a ropewalk -- a heavy industrial use involving boiling pots of smoky pine tar. It was also once a cow pasture. Those precedents are both legally and politically irrelevant; the space has been residential both in zoning and in actual use for well over 20 years.
Getting a food truck permit in this city's just about the only thing harder to get than a restaurant permit.
Do you know what the Civic Association director told her to do? Get a food truck.
The version of the story I heard was that the Civic Association director got on the phone and e-mail to all sorts of people asking, "a beloved neighborhood business is being forced out of her space by a renovation; the business can't pay the prices the landlords are asking on Cambridge Street, can anyone help her find good, cheap space?" And then someone came back with, "Hey, would she be interested in a food truck? I know about a food truck for sale." and she passed along the word.
But if you want to spin it as hostility, knock yourself out.
The neighborhood association has a blanket policy of opposing commercial expansion in the residential interior of the neighborhood. The nice thing about having a principle is that you don't need to get into the question of who ought to get a break and who ought not.
As for your snarky accusation of exclusion or racism, the neihghborhood overwhelmingly supports Julie and loves her and her business.
As for your last comment, yeah, there has been predetermination that she can't open her shop there. It was decided 50 years or so ago; not only before she applied for an exception, but before she was born. She shouldn't take it personally.
Unless you are part of a large corporation and want to open another branch of your franchise operation. Boston may be wealthy but it's character is boring and getting lamer.
From the Globe:
"The space in the residential building is a former barbershop that has been vacant for at least two decades, according to neighborhood residents,....Opponents of the move, including members of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, argued that the take-out restaurant did not fit the environment of the residential street and could bring increased traffic."
Villa Mexico make the best Burritos in town. I hope they find a spot soon. Though, being in the gas station was part of the charm.
A gas station. And then a few parking lots so that the gas station can have customers. Just knock down some of those old buildings and pave over, nobody'll mind.
I don't recall what the current developer paid for the gas station, but part of the reason the gas station is going is the land is worth $6 million an acre (well $6 million in the past, probably something cheap like $4 million now). Having a large employer with 25000 employees and another few thousand visitors a day might have something to do with the high value of the land. That drives rents to where you can't really accommodate a little mom and daughter shop.
The proposed location was a former retail/commercial space located at 12 Grove Street, about 80 feet from where Villa Mexico currently operates (296 Cambridge Street / Grampy's Gas Station / Corner of Grove and Cambridge). The proposal involved converting space that has remained vacant for a number of years to a small take out restaurant (with no seating/take out only). It would have allowed Villa Mexico to remain in Beacon Hill where it has operated for the past 6 years since plans to redevelop Grampy's are likely to move forward soon. Although Villa Mexico had a number of supporters from Beacon Hill and specifically Grove Street speak in favor, there was also a good deal of opposition to the proposal from the Beacon Hill Civic Association and neighbors. To be fair, the opposition was less about Villa Mexico as a business and more about its policy of discouraging encroachment of commercial establishments into the residential portions of the Hill where businesses are forbidden uses. In order for Villa Mexico to relocate around the corner, it would have required a Variance from the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal. The Zoning Board, in making its determination, felt that the site was not appropriate based upon the current zoning and the likely impacts that go along with a commercial establishment. Hopefully, Villa Mexico can find an affordable alternative location where they can continue to service their loyal customer base who live and work in Beacon Hill.
Me thinks the Beacon "let's keep others off the hill" Civic Association does not want any change to there bucolic existence. Now if the owner wanted to open a cupcake bakery...but I digress.
If the proposed location is zoned for retail/commercial (as you state) why can't a restaurant go into that space? I confess, I am not up on Boston zoning rules and regulations. Maybe I am missing something?
I have to chuckle since the vacant space has been vacant for a number of years, as you say, but better to keep in vacant? So what would of been the downside of this restaurant moving to Beacon Hill (and, mind you, it would still be only take out)? Noise? Nice try Beacon Hill peeps.
The burrito I had a Villa Mexico was the best I ever had tasted. My husband and I stopped in there a while back and were wowed. They have a great product and seem to be nice folks. Guess we will have to stop by again soon before they have to vacant Grampy's.
Now if the owner wanted to open a cupcake bakery.
If the owner had wanted to open a cupcake bakery, the response would have been identical: "We oppose the conversion of residential space into commercial space on the residential streets on the interior of the hill"
If the proposed location is zoned for retail/commercial (as you state) why can't a restaurant go into that space? I confess, I am not up on Boston zoning rules and regulations. Maybe I am missing something?
It's zoned residential. See the "H-2-65" designation here:
How 'bout people work from the facts here?
If you would re-read my post, you will see that I was checking the facts as I was/am confused by the previous poster describing the space as retail/commercial and not residential. There still appears to be confusion on the issue.
So even though the space did at one time have a barber shop in the said space (?) it is still zoned as residential?
If you did not like my snark against the BHCA (The organization's byline by the way is: "Neighbors helping Neighbors" and I add, only some), well...
It's an explicitly political decision. It can be changed with the stroke of a pen.
Quit acting like "zoning" is some law of the universe. It's not, and we see through your bullshit.
I get that you don't like zoning, and that you hold the sincere belief that the world would be better off without it.
Unfortunately for you, yours is a minority position, and what we have, as with everything else, is a political compromise among the various competing interests, which, by its very nature, tends to land somewhere in the middle.
I get that you don't like where things landed. I also get that you think zoning is anti-city.
What would change my mind, and bring me a lot closer to your point of view, would be to provide a couple of examples of places that:
I would sincerely take a close look at anything you want to present.
It's tough to generalize, but, I look to older cities (and other countries), in particular, the parts that survived urban renewal. Or in places that adopted more traditional styles of city building and stuck with it.
Charlie Gardner has a very nice blog and you can start with this post: http://oldurbanist.blogspot.com/2011/05/did-zoning-ever-conserve-property.html
Personally, the first example that springs to mind after reading your post is Tokyo, and other Japanese cities. Most are densely populated, and Tokyo is pretty large in area as well. Highly desirable real estate, goes without saying. Zoning in Japan is different. Most categories of zoning there implicitly recognize mixing of uses and instead focus more on form. For example, some residential areas might be low-rise and permit commercial uses, but only if they are part of a dwelling. Others might be low-rise and also allow purely commercial buildings. Still others might be high-rise, allowing shops but with a floor space restriction. There are also areas which mix residences with (safe) factories. And many other combinations.
I only saw a small fraction of a few cities when I was in Japan. Still, there's some pretty characteristic features. The more traditional neighborhoods are crossed by small winding streets, some with lots of little businesses tucked into every cranny. Sometimes with just enough room inside for a few people each. There's also straight up boulevards lined with trees and shopping, like here. They also have their fair share of modernist architecture, big towers, and projects in places. So it's quite diverse in that sense.
Is it economically diverse? Well, I'm not privy to Japanese economic particulars, but the vast majority of people there do live in cities. And unlike here, where NYC is almost completely different in character from the rest of the country, in Japan most cities and even smaller towns have a lot in common.
As promised, I'll take a serious look at this.
To be fair, the opposition was less about Villa Mexico as a business and more about its policy of discouraging encroachment of commercial establishments into the residential portions of the Hill where businesses are forbidden uses.
And why are perfectly nice, residential-compatible businesses forbidden from occupying a convenient space?
What's fair is that everyone plays by the same rules, and not that you make exceptions for some people but not for others.
I was talking about the rules being stupid in the first place.
If I'm not mistaken, there's still an Anna's right down the street. I'm sure Beacon Hill will be just fine. :-)
I thought you were referring to Anna's, further up the street, where we make a pilgrimage from Back Bay at least once a week. So Beacon Hill will still have one good burrito joint (barring a bank taking over Anna's space, anything being possible when it comes to banks). But it would be better to have two, even if Villa Mexico is a bit more 'spensive.
Villa Mexico is really nice, everything made by hand with love. She deserves success, and it frosts me mightily that the landlords are holding onto empty storefronts hoping for a miracle,rather than renting at a more believable price to a proven business that everyone loves.
The prospective new location was around the corner on Grove Street, presumably too residential for the residents.
Don't forget Viva Burrito on Staniford Street, a Beacon Hill burrito joint that is generally superior to Anna's, and actually Mexican owned.
So that Boston doesn't have to waste its time with their whining and (expletive) anymore.
Just so long as we still get a cut of their property tax.
A landlord on a residential street wanted an exemption from the zoning that designates his building residential, so that he could rent to a commercial tenant,specifically a take-out restaurant. The neighborhood didn't support the exemption. How the hell is that "whining" or (expletive)?
Set overly restrictive zoning and then just say "Well they wanted an exemption!"
Everyone knows that game. Your excuses don't fly.
It's a designated historic district, fer' cryin' out loud... everybody knows before they buy in that you basically cannot touch the exterior of a building. Some people think it's overly restrictive, others think it supports a piece of history that creates high property values and draws tourist dollars to Boston. How you feel about the zoning is all a question of where your bread is buttered.
I'm OK with principled opposition to zoning. What I'm not OK with, though, is someone buying a place at a cheap price that reflects the restrictions on it, and then trying to create a windfall for himself by getting the restrictions lifted, and then, when he doesn't get his way, whining about how the government is screwing him and killing business.
A take-out restaurant can still exist even if they are not allowed to modify the facade. This is zoning meddling with what goes on inside.
What I'm not OK with, though, is someone buying a place at a cheap price that reflects the restrictions on it, and then trying to create a windfall for himself by getting the restrictions lifted
I get it. But answer me this: how do you remove those restrictions then? Should the city continue to be shooting itself in the foot just to avoid the possibility that someone, somewhere might gain from a change for the better?
When the net benefit of removing the restrictions exceeds the net benefit of keeping them, then remove them. That's easy. In this case, there's obviously no need to convert additional residential space into commercial space; it's not like there's any shortage of commercial space -- there are empty storefronts on Cambridge street.
The net benefits of removing the restrictions do exceed the net benefits of keeping them. If only it was that easy.
Why is the restaurant talking about leaving Beacon Hill, then, if they are not able to keep 296 Cambridge Street, and are not able to obtain the Grove Street shop?
It would seem that the restaurant's business model is dependent on very cheap rent, and the landlords on Cambridge street would rather keep their places empty, hoping for some kind of miracle, than rent them out at current market rents.
As for the net benefits argument, simple assertion is not a very compelling argument. If you removed all zoning regulations, Beacon Hill would be bulldozed within 5 years, and we'd have Charles River Park South. Some people think that's OK, some don't; everyone puts his or her own cost/benefit on preservation. If you kept the historic preservation regs but got rid of usage zoning, then pretty quickly the whole neighborhood would be expensive boutique offices for lobbyists and law firms wanting to be close to the State House, pharma sales offices wanting to be close to MGH, etc. Again, how you feel about that varies depending upon your point of view.
A lot of people use Georgetown (or, closer to home, Hanover street) as an example of what happens if you don't keep a lid on commercial expansion into the residential streets. Excessive commercial development has made the restaurant owners and the (mostly absentee) landlords happy, but everyone who's simply trying to live his life in the North End finds Hanover street pretty miserable.
Politics did, in the past, and that now takes the form of "historic district" designation. By 1960, zoning codes were quite well established, and that didn't help the West End at all. The opposite, rather. Remember, the West End was demolished because it didn't fit into the neat categories of city planners. It had high population density and mixed uses, and therefore had to be bulldozed and turned into an uncluttered, separated-use residential "zone". The same fate nearly befell the North End.
A major part of what's driving up the prices and destroying the economic diversity of the North End and Beacon Hill is the fact that there's a terribly low supply of vibrant urban neighborhoods in Boston in relation to demand. (There's also some peculiarities with regard to history and tourism which affect things too). The main reason for this under-supply is Euclid-style zoning, which forbid the creation of new truly urban neighborhoods.
Have you seen that dead storefront for a barber shop that hasn't existed since the Reagan administration?
You think it "net benefits" the community for that blighted little glass hole to exist in the street front or a much-beloved mother-daughter burrito shop that's losing its home to office development around the corner (where your oh-so-vaunted, super-critical, super-historic, residential zone just barely doesn't extend for you to raise a stink I guess)?
Also, I don't know why people keep throwing out the storefronts on Cambridge St as if empty store space is equivalent to any other empty store space. Do you really think two women making burritos in a gas station have saved up enough to just go setup a larger-than-life shop in some of the most expensive commercial real estate in the city? This was, literally, a hole in the wall...and it was perfect for their needs, the owner's needs, and the community could have boasted on having the greatest burritos in the city just down the street still.
But instead of fully rallying around her, powerful players in the community decided they didn't want her. And ultimately, the last words quoted from the zoning board ring all too true: "This is not going to further unite the neighborhood." Evidently not, but not for lack of Julie and Bessie trying...which tells me that it's the other side that hated (feared?) uniting with them.
The neighbors did rally around Julie and Bessie. There are no "powerful players in the community" who "decided they didn't want her." Your "powerful players" were out there scrounging for space, badgering their commercial landlord friends and acquaintances, trying to find a solution that would work.
One thing the neighborhood institutions, in particular the BHCA, have developed over the past 75 years, is a deserved reputation for being level-headed, for being even-handed, for not playing favorites, and for approaching questions such as this one from a question of principle rather than from a question of personalities. That means completely taking off the table the fact that everybody loves Julie and Bessie and wants them to stay, and answering, instead, one question: Do we want to allow food service establishments in the interior of the Hill.
I'm OK with the answer, which is "No." If you've ever lived above or next to a food service business, you know that, even if they're run impeccably (and Julie and Bessie run a squeaky-clean shop), there are smells, trash, and rats. I don't necessarily think that one of these empty former storefronts is necessarily a worse neighbor than a food service place.
If we got rid of every whiny neighborhood, what would be left?
And if I'm not mistaken it's still zoned commercial, right?
In fact, I'm having a hard time finding the zoning info for the back bay / beacon over at http://www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org
They playing by their own rules?
If I'm reading the maps right, less than 50 feet is the problem here. The old, not very detailed city map (that by design?) appears to have zoned around 75 feet up Stewart street for local business. So if this was two doors down, no variance needed!
This location is about 30-40 feet too far from the imaginary line.
Hell, I'm betting the old barber shop used to be the old line, and no one said a thing back then.
... commercial/retail (and it has been sitting empty since such use), how did it manage to get zoned residential?
If a neighborhood is zoned residential, the existing businesses aren't forced out at gunpoint or bulldozed; they're allowed to continue; they're "grandfathered in." And they're allowed to be sold. And the landlord is allowed to have a similar business move into the space if the business moves out. But once the landlord quits using the space for a business, then, after a number of years, he loses his exemption and the property reverts to the prevailing zoning. The space in question is H2-65 and it has been residential for a long time; the building in question has been strictly residential for about 20 years.
If this was last used as a barber shop, but the buiding has been totally residential for 20 years, does that mean this spot has remained unused for 20 years?
A lot of these North Slope buildings have an ancient commercial space in the front of the bottom floor. A single room, maybe 15 feet wide by 20 feet deep. In a lot of cases it's halfway below grade, with steps down to it. As the stores moved out 30 and 20 years ago, some landlords converted the spaces into apartments, others just used them as utility space, or a space to store the trash barrels, or as storage for the tenants upstairs.
Here's one across the street from the property in question, that seems to have been turned into an apartment:
Here's a vacant one:
This one just recently got cleaned up, but for 30 years it was pretty much in exactly the condition it had been in when the corner store left, complete with an "Iannella for City Council" poster in the window, which would have been from the 1980 campaign
Great examples. These could have been small, helpful, thriving businesses. Before zoning, they came about naturally. Then along comes some idealistic city planner, playing "SimCity", who decrees that this shall be a residential zone. And so the space goes vacant for decades...
We have any number of sprawling cities and, locally, much of Acton, MA.
The problem is poorly thought out zoning: overly restrictive zoning and "block" zoning of businesses away from sprawling subdivisions ... not zoning per se.
Acton certainly has zoning by-laws, as do most municipalities. Even Houston, everyone's favorite reference, has "restrictive covenants" which are basically the same thing.
Euclid-style zoning causes sprawl: segregation of uses, as you say, forces people into automobiles for even the simplest of trips, where you need high-speed arterial roads to connect different zones, and then it's just easier to build parking lots and more highways everywhere.
Also, sprawl is driven by developers seeking cheap land unencumbered by all sorts of inane restrictions (e.g. zoning). It also helps that they receive massive subsidies in terms of infrastructure and mortgage backing.
The kind of sprawl we have today is largely a 20th century phenomenon, and it went hand-in-hand with another 20th century creation: Euclid-style zoning. Obviously, there's more to this story, but it definitely played a major role.
Comes from bad zoning, not zoning. But I'm sure that's what you meant.
As you stated above, you can have logical zoning that promotes both density and good mix-use to promote vibrant communities. But far to often that's not how it's done.
So you get the hill is for apartments and mini-mansions, and Charles Street is for overpriced shops and offices.
Meanwhile spaces like this sit vacant for years.
The only quibble is that fixing the problems of zoning with more zoning seems redundant. I would prefer a lighter touch in the first place. The best would be a simple and short code that addressed safety issues primarily, and maybe something about form.
Practically speaking, we're lucky just to get planners to recognize the importance of mixed use these days. Real mixed use, not just a "convenience store on the corner."
If you only restricted form and safety, then very quickly the entire hill would be law offices and boutique stores. I don't have a problem, theoretically or legally, with regulating use. Use is far more than "what goes on inside the premises" -- it affects the neighborhood tremendously. Consider the difference between a bank (which is shuttered at night) versus a convenience store (which brings late night vitality to a street and makes it safer). Consider the difference between a law office (which houses people who live somewhere else) and a residence (which houses people who participate in the life of the neighborhood.
Consider the difference between a law office (which houses people who live somewhere else) and a residence (which houses people who participate in the life of the neighborhood.
If you view a place with a law office as being exclusively for that sort of use, then yes, you will end up with districts that empty out at night (Financial District) and residential neighborhoods that empty out by day (any bedroom community). In other words, the very problem that we have.
I recognize the problems you are talking about and I think they can be resolved through form. I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of a central planner going through a map and saying "here be homes; and there be law offices. Let there be a convenience store on the corner, but no more!" I think that mode of thinking has failed miserably.
I actually like Acton because they managed to allow growth while still maintaining, for the most part, the rural and small-village character of the town's neighborhoods.
Rte. 2A was "sacrificed" to apartment development and retail/commercial so that West Action, South Action and Acton Center could continue as the same small villages they'd always been.
It's also an interesting town because of the way it had to deal with losing roughly half its water supply to contamination from a WR Grace plant (Environmentalists organized, ran for office and basically took over the town).
I lived in the area in the late 80s and the place was a confused mess of commercial and residential random sprawl due to a lack of any zoning at all prior to about 1985.
As for Matthew's latest ideologic obsession here, Urban Growth Boundaries and comprehensive land use planning are forms of zoning. Both lack of zoning and poor zoning - not zoning itself - cause problems. Difference!
And forced zoning through in part because of the Grace issue, which I got to cover fairly extensively as crusading cub reporter for the paper nobody in town ever read (but at least people in Acton were generally friendly and would talk to you without the least bit of condescension, unlike the nobs in Concord, whose contempt for your very existence you could rolling off their very brows).
I wish you wouldn't confuse efforts to protect public safety with what I'm talking about: Euclid-style zoning, aka segregation of uses.
That style of zoning is the radical change that was introduced following the Supreme Court case Euclid v Ambler in 1916. And it's the kind of zoning which has ripped up cities in favor of parking lots connected by highways.
What we've got in Beacon Hill is not the kind of Euclid-style zoning you decry; I haven't taken out the scale ruler, but I don't think there's a residence on the Hill that is more than 100 yards from either a zoned commercial street or a significant grandfathered-in commercial use.
That's patently false, as I'm sure you're fully aware.
It was not zoning that closed these little storefront businesses. They were all operating legally under the zoning laws at the time they closed, and anyone who wanted to could have taken them over and operated a business there. They closed because the entire dynamic of how people shop had changed; People would rather walk to the A&P on Cambridge street than shop at Fink's on Myrtle street (where there were 3 other little groceries within a block) so when Fink retired, nobody else thought they could make a go of it, and the landlord converted the space into an apartment. I'm sure the same is true for a dozen or so other little storefronts.
times are changing again, and these small, specific shops are starting to be and going to be the future, especially in cities in the age where big box marts and generic shopping districts are replaced by amazon and other internet retailers.
Unfortunately, nice little places like that are perfect for the type of operation these women are running, but lost their grandfather status and then sit vacant because they can't be converted, or won't be, to residential.
Granting a variance for a historic store front thats been a vacant eye sore for 20 years seems like a no brainier to me.
You're not talking about a slippy slope where you're turning residential use into mixed use or worse. You reaffirming what was there before but lost to changes in the economy/culture of the hill. It's exactly the type of situation a variance is meant for.
You could further argue that it was a commercial space in 1955-1960 when the original Beacon Hill Bill was passed creating a historic district (and further adding the North Slope a bit later). Thus, the zoning rule that converts it to residential space after 2 years of unuse runs OPPOSED to the intent of the founders of the effort to preserve the Hill as it was in the 50's and that having the burrito shop would be more akin to what they wanted!
They didn't want FURTHER redevelopment as what they saw going on in the West End...not that they wanted it all to be houses.
...then this suggests something is terribly wrong with the zoning. Does any sane person think it is good to have an empty storefront for 20--30 YEARS!
It's not zoning that causes these places to be vacant. There have been a couple of buildings, with, say, 4 apartments apiece, that have sat vacant for extended periods of time. No zoning issues whatsoever, just lack of attention. The best explanation I've heard is that, as the older generation dies off and as wills get probated, pretty soon the building is owned by 13 cousins spread across the country; they barely know each other; none of them live in Boston, and nobody has quite cottoned on to the fact that the building Great Grampa bought for $8,500 in 1953 is now worth $2 Millon. Nobody perceives him or herself as having much skin in the game, so nobody steps up to get them maintained / rented / etc.
See post # 18 above
"The Boston Zoning Board of Appeals denied their application amid concerns that a "take-out restaurant did not fit the environment of the residential street," Boston.com says. Sad, sad, sad. We had high hopes that Beacon Hill would stay spicy."
Maybe I can ask the Hill folks when I crash the next "Summer White Party" on June 1?
Snooty what? the snooty neighbors who support and encourage Section 8 housing, like here?, or here? or here? Snooty elderly people living on limited incomes, like here? Or how about those snooty people with HIV living over here, not to mention the snooty neighbors who put in their time and money and labor to make sure the facility would have a nice garden. Maybe you're referring to that snooty church that feeds the homeless in the neighborhood.
I don't know the source of your resentment toward the neighborhood, but the fact is, it welcomes diversity, and it puts its money where its mouth is.
And you wouldn't need to crash the party; like everything else the BHCA does, it's open to the public.
She should move to Davis Square - I don't know if you've heard, but we are almost irrationally burrito-friendly here.