Councilor doesn't think it should take months to get permits to open a small business in Boston

Wu

Before a storefront business can open in Boston, it has to get a permit for its fire-alarm system. No, make that two permits: One from Inspectional Services and one from the Fire Department.

In a report submitted to the city council and the mayor today, at-large Councilor Michelle Wu says this sort of thing makes it hard for Boston to truly be the sort of entrepreneurial city it claims it wants to be.

The report by Wu's Special Committee on Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Innovation (attached below) points to numerous examples of creaky bureaucratic wheels that slow new businesses - in particular, the entire zoning process, in which it can take months for a business just to get on the Zoning Board of Appeals agenda and then, even after it approves a business use, weeks before that approval is certified by the city as legal.

Other problems that exist for no particularly good reason: The need to schedule numerous inspections by inspectors from different departments, cashiers that close before the rest of their departments, overly restrictive and inconsistently applied zoning and licensing regulations and just overall "inconsistent levels of professionalism" at ISD.

The report proposes a series of improvements, including a small-business ombudsman for city government, fast tracking of zoning approval for small requests, such as take-out food, use of case-management software that would let a budding business owner track his status before city agencies - and let him or her file plans and yearly renewals electronically rather than in person at ISD and elimination of overlapping licensing requirements.

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Comments

Give it a rest

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So how come it was OK for Charles Yancey to be elected council president with the support of conservatives like Jimmy Kelly?

"Progressives" always miss the point when it comes to what's important about the Boston City Council.

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That's as valid as claiming that...

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That's as valid as claiming that "conservatives" always make a point of jumping on any potentially ill-advised statement from an individual, and trying to paint their ideological opponents as all holding the same opinion.

But of course you and your fellow reactionaries would never do something like that ;P

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Not just small businesses

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For any business renovating their office space in the city that requires modifying their fire alarm system they have to wait 4-8 weeks for that permit from the Boston Fire Department. Typically the construction only takes 4-8 weeks and the existing fire alarm devices can't be touched until the permit is received, IE, you can't do the first step in construction which is demolition!

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will never happen

The fastest way to get anyone in Boston to shut their ears and ignore you is to say "Well New York did it this way...."

Which is why Boston will

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Which is why Boston will always be a second tier city until we gentrify the local politics, like we did the neighborhoods.

- The Original SoBo Yuppie

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Re: She's Right

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Wiff, a good idea, but no need to spend dough sending folks to NYC SBS. Ms. Wu is already critically examining what other cities are doing in their departments. See also her proposed legislation on turning Boston into a transparent "open data" City Government. Obviously a very bright hard working lady. Was a good pick for City Council.

A Good Start

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This is a good start, but she should keep on this. The issues she raises here are only the tip of the ice burg when it comes to ISD and permitting in general in Boston (both commercial and residential). The licensing and inspection process in Boston is antiquated, iniffecient, and seemingly designed to work for those employed in or by the building and development trades and to discourage individuals from trying to get things done on their own. My favorite personal anecdote is being told by an ISD employee that although they had emailed me a .pdf of an application ,I had to fax them the filled out application because they could not accept a scanned copy by email. A City Councilor could make a name for themselves by rooting out and fixing these issues.

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like trying to build 1 car driveway

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I am trying to build a 1 car driveway in my home in Brighton and the zoning process and amount of permits required just to pour a 10'x20'ft concrete slab to park my car is very discouraging, and nearly impossible to legally do.

The whole permitting process+plot plans+designs+appeals costs more in time and money than the actual work.

Seems like the city is actively discouraging residents from parking off-street in their own home!

I guess more esthetically questionable space saving for me in the winter that Boston loves so much.

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Good Luck!

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It took me 3 years to get a permit from ISD for a curb cut to legally park on my property next to my house (ie-create a driveway). Then, I found out that it had been deliberately held up, out of spite.

Previously, it took a year to get a permit for a rear staircase to a legal in-law apartment which required a 2nd egress. I had to go to the state to get a waiver after the city rejected the application because the staircase needed to be 14 feet to meet the landing and the city would only permit 12 feet. Maybe, that's why they were pissed.

Doing business in Boston for the average homeowner who wants to improve their property is a nightmare. It only encourages people to do the wrong thing. Anyone who can change that has my vote!

Honestly...

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Well, you're taking away one public parking space with the curb cut to create a single parking space for yourself off-street. Not really a net gain for the public. Plus, curb cuts suck for the sidewalk.

I agree that the process is ridiculous though.

Re: Good Start

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Roslindaler, send that comment to ms. Wu.

Wu claims she supported Bill

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Wu claims she supported Bill Linehan for Council president because he would allow exactly this kind of proposal to get a fair hearing and advance forward. Let's see if that actually happens...

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Absolutely.

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Let's include home improvement in the reforms! We had to push back a completely noncontroversial project a whole year just waiting on various approvals.

I would also consider abolishing ISD and just starting all over.

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I voted for her

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I knew I made a good choice!

- The Original SoBo Yuppie

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There's a pattern to all these process hangovers.

It is as if Boston was traumatized by white flight and the decrepitude of the 70s and 80s and it built up all these make work rules to keep attorney cronies busy while making fat departments to employ various useless relatives during those lean years.

The lean years have passed but the encumbrance remains like some ghost reminder as if Boston has no confidence in the prosperity it just finished leveraging.

The taxi bullshit is the same thing. It's all like something you'd find in some crooked backwater with a line of hands held out for some kind of bakshish.

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Is this why Stash's Pizza isn

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Is this why Stash's Pizza isn't open yet in Roslindale? Seriously, it's been almost a year.

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Fire Dept inspections = Detail Work

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I've seen typed on construction permits words stating that a Fire department detail inspection was required. My understanding is that these details are the Fire department's version of police details. They are a method to increase the income of Fire department employees rather than actually providing a service of real and necessary value.

Where the useful inspection such as verifying sprinkler systems are working and the building integrity is good - supposedly done by ISD - the Fire department then sends staff to look around, pretend they are doing something and then get a nice bump in their income.

In a word, graft.

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These inspections aren't the

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These inspections aren't the only type of fire detail.

Want to light a candle in your wedding ceremony? You're paying for a fire detail.

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Yeah, why would a Fire

Yeah, why would a Fire Department detail ever be necessary....

Soon after, a representative for Oliver Realty, the owner of 296 Beacon, publicly admitted to hiring “a third party to install safety railings,” but insisted that the welding was supposed to be done off-site. The welders had never pulled a permit for the job. If they had, they would have been required to have a firefighter on-site.

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This would not be a "detail."

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Details are overtime, extra and outside the normal course of duty. If city or state laws require a firefighter keeping an eye on welders then this should be part of standard working hours rather than an overtime assignment.

Is there a firefighter at every welding operation in the city? Is there a firefighter looking over the shoulders of every welder in the city? Considering how much welding is happening with all the new buildings I don't see how the fire department can provide enough staff to put out fires and still have staff available for overtime details.

The argument can be made that the fact that a detail is paid at overtime rates is the reason that the company did not have a fire fighter on the premises keeping making sure the welding was done properly. This is theoretical and the reality is that we don't know why the welding was not done off site. But if anything can be learned from this tragedy it is that dangerous work such as this needs a higher level of safety therefore the costs for ensuring safety should not be more than necessary so as to encourage companies to comply with the rules.

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Wu

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Wu is a carpetbagger that got elected because she road Elizabeth Warrens coat tails. She once said "I don't understand what the fire department does for the community". Biggest mistake in Boston politics in a long time.

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Hey Jfly,

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Hey Jfly,

Googling "michelle wu I don't understand what the fire department does for the community" got me

"Members of the Boston Fire Department take on the dangerous and unpredictable work of keeping residents and businesses safe." at

http://www.bostonglobe.com/2013/10/22/michelle/6L7ouT2QeaLoLSs1gLq9iJ/st...

but I could not find anything resembling

"I don't understand what the fire department does for the community"

can you provide a source?

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She said it in a closed door

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She said it in a closed door meeting discussing t-cap. Even if you don't believe she said that you cannot argue with the fact that from the beginning Wu has not done what she said she was going to do. She went against her supposed progressive beliefs with the Linehan vote. She is using our city to springboard herself to hire political office. She has no roots in our city or our state for that matter but somehow snaked her way into an At Large seat. It's a disgrace.

What the heck is t-cap

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And I don't recall in meeting her that "progressive beliefs" was the cornerstone of her campaign. I recall making things easier for businesses getting started, which she did.

Some politicians grandstand. She former a committee, held hearings, and issued a report with 25 specific recommendations. If she is using this as a springboard, I see great things in the future from her.

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Wu got elected

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Because he worked her ass off.

More importantly, she had her points. This was one of her points. She wants to get things done. She doesn't even seem to care about the petty politics of the Council, supporting Linehan in order to be able to get her things done.

As far as coattails, she came out of the Suffolk County D.A.'s Office. I don't think Conley's coattails went that far last year, especially in September.

The woman is trying to get things done. Good for her.

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Smoke detector inspections

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Only in Boston do you have to pay $50 to the fire department to come out and verify that you have a $20 smoke/monoxide detector plugged into a power outlet before you can sell your house. And if you live in a large condo building, be prepared to shell out another $400 to have your building's fire alarm company send out a crew (composed mostly of off-duty firefighters) on site hto press the alarm system's reset button after the on-duty firefighter blows a puff of smoke into the detector.

Sure doesn't pass the smell test. Ironic when you consider that carbon monoxide is an odorless gas.

That's so true

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This whole thing of the Fire Department making sure houses have working smoke detectors is total BS. Then, to make it worse, is this crap about carbon monoxide detectors. As you note, there is no odor with carbon monoxide, which makes the whole thing security theater. I mean, I don't think there's any solid evidence that smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors are a good thing.

This must be the main driver in the high housing costs in the city, the whole $50 fee to the Fire Department, which could possibly, maybe, balloon up to $400 for a condo whenever a property is sold.

It's State Law passed by your

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It's State Law passed by your local politicians. All money goes to the Cities general fund.
Wu is doing this because she didn't like it when her mother had to follow the rules in trying to open a restaurant

Modern smokies are hard wired

..and come with location specific robo voices that tell you where the smoke is.

And it is all part of normal wiring code which originates from a Fire dept professional association.

So it is unlikely to rise to this kind of overkill in new construction or gut out makeovers.

It's likely to be an issue with home owners, slum lords and others doing superficial work on the old over priced dumps that form our core housing inventory.

And that is where there has long been a history of cheating, scheming , scamming and so on.

Our system doesn't trust 'the little guy' as far as it can throw him because the 'little guy' demographic is where all the bullshit seeps.

And its outlook is, after all, heavily weighted by the concerns of the Insurance lobby.

The FIRE* sector is still a huge player in our economy and its concerns trump the chumps who figure they are entitled to an easy ride.

*(Finance Insurance Real Estate)

Michelle Wu, Samantha Kaufman, Dan Murphy, read this!

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Michelle

Rather than simply facilitate an easy path to launching a business in Boston, I think more attention needs to be given to making more neighborhoods more livable for residents and appealing to diverse types of businesses (more little grocers, bike shops, tailors). The plan to make opening a restaurant simpler and does usually generate revenue and outside traffic. In the Fort Point Channel and Seaport areas, I can find plenty of lunch options but do you know how much of a pain it is to buy a bandage, potting soil, or a fresh pineapple around here? People live here, not just visit or work. Please come up with a plan to even things out a bit for residents. :)