Councilor wants to keep Charles Street from being overrun by lawyers, real-estate agents and insurance brokers

City Councilor Josh Zakim says he doesn't hate lawyers - he's one himself - but he says he concerned that too many professionals are taking over street-level storefronts on Charles Street and the Beacon Hill side of Cambridge Street and wants to try to slow the process.

Zakim, who represents most of Beacon Hill, wants to make professional offices a "conditional" use on the two streets. The proposal would still let the agents and brokers move in, but only after a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Zakim says that while professionals offer valuable services to residents, they tend to close up shop around 5 p.m., and that's not a good thing for the restaurants, art galleries and other shops that rely on foot traffic for much of their business.

Other city councilors agreed with Zakim's request for a public hearing, the potential first step in getting the city zoning code changed.

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Comments

Please do something about

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Please do something about ground floor bank branches. They kill more corners than anything in this city after 5pm.

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I don't believe

Expensive storefronts are being rented by people who can afford them?

Get a life, guy. Or instill rent control, pinko.

Zoning

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Nothing wrong with zoning. Professional offices should be zoned for upper floors.

Otherwise you get office wastelands like DTX and the financial district.

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Black Hole

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In other neighborhoods this is known as the "Oh god another useless bank branch" taking up retail space.

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Oh the Humanity

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Seriously? Is this a concern?

I'll take lawyers, insurance agents, and other professional services over a bank, a cell phone store, and a dollar store that seem to litter my neighborhood any day.

One thing this guy needs to keep in mind, which is the case in Chelsea and probably Boston too, the LANDLORDS are the reason why we can't attract better businesses. The Rent is just too damn high. Don't you think this is why we're being over banked?!?

Who can afford a 7k/mo store front (boston)? A Bank can and so do most professional business. SB's can't, paying 7k is a huge overhead cost for say a coffee shop or a small clothing store.

Edit: I'd also like to add that I'd LOVE to see him try this. Really? You'd try to PROHIBIT a business from opening, especially a lawyer? he really wants to waste the tax payers money in court trying to defend his actions.

I say this because like I said above, Chelsea is overrun by cell phone stores, junk stores, taco shops, and bodegas. And the city has down right told the residents "We cannot prohibit businesses from opening". And they are right, you can't. So I'd like to see how this 're-zoning' will work and if people will lie down and take it or take the city to court.

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Correct

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But what he means is prevent. He can't say "prohibit" because that is discrimination but he can make it VERY hard for such businesses to do so. That's what conditional is.. i.e. must sell physical product or offer seating or some such silliness. It'll just be harder for non-service/retail establishments to open on ground levels.

But if this works for him, I will use this tactic with my own city council.. :D I'd Love not to see yet another bodega open up..... (we're up to 8 now within 30 seconds of my front door)

You use the word "Discrimination"

I don't think it means what you think it means.

Unless you are willing to toss out zoning altogether (which is not a completely crazy position, but not one I hold) it's of course within the law to treat a restaurant, a retail store, a manufacturing facility, an office, and a residence differently.

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Yes, it's a concern

I'll take lawyers, insurance agents, and other professional services over a bank, a cell phone store, and a dollar store that seem to litter my neighborhood any day

.

Different needs for different neighborhoods. I'd love to add a convenience store or a little bodega open into the night to my neighborhood.
Two problems with law offices and other professional offices is that they don't generate much retail traffic, and they don't stay open into the evening. Without retail foot traffic, the other stores begin to starve. And, when your teenaged daughter is walking home from a friend's house at 9:30 PM and notices someone following her, would you rather she have the opportunity to duck into a busy convenience store? Or would you rather have her walking along a deserted street of offices and banks. that all closed at 5:00 PM?

As to whether or not restrictions can be applied, sure they can under our present zoning. "Retail" and "Office" are two different things; if a property is zoned "Retail" then it's not a slam dunk to get an occupancy permit for an office.

"the LANDLORDS are the reason why we can't attract better businesses. The Rent is just too damn high"

A landlord has no power to set the rent unless there are tenants willing to pay that rent. Don't blame the landlords for the operation of the inevitable laws of supply and demand.

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Okay

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Different needs for different neighborhoods. I'd love to add a convenience store or a little bodega open into the night to my neighborhood.

I have about 8 I can send you..

Two problems with law offices and other professional offices is that they don't generate much retail traffic, and they don't stay open into the evening. Without retail foot traffic, the other stores begin to starve. And, when your teenaged daughter is walking home from a friend's house at 9:30 PM and notices someone following her, would you rather she have the opportunity to duck into a busy convenience store? Or would you rather have her walking along a deserted street of offices and banks. that all closed at 5:00 PM?

While I agree with the foot traffic issue, but your comment above ("Different needs..") says it all. Neighborhoods DO change. Maybe Charles street is changing. If these professional services are opening up, maybe there is a need, its just not what this guy wants. *shrug*

A landlord has no power to set the rent unless there are tenants willing to pay that rent. Don't blame the landlords for the operation of the inevitable laws of supply and demand.

No but they certainly aren't helping the situation by jacking up the rent to a point where small businesses cannot afford it. I get supply and demand,. but landlords don't have to rent to big chains who can afford absorbent amounts of rent. There was a store front in inman square that flat out said "if you're a chain, don't call, we're not interested', so yes it can be done. But they don't because landlords can rent to a large chain or a bank that can afford that 10k/mo or more in rent and pay on time, every month vs a small startup business may not.

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Don't blame the landlords

While I agree with the foot traffic issue, but your comment above ("Different needs..") says it all. Neighborhoods DO change. Maybe Charles street is changing. If these professional services are opening up, maybe there is a need, its just not what this guy wants. *shrug*

Not *shrug*. Looking strictly at the market, there's an obvious "need" to bulldoze all of the downtown residential neighborhoods and replace them with office towers. But, as a matter of public policy, we chose not to let that happen. Is that interference in the free market? Yup, you bet. Just as the zoning laws that prohibit you from opening a strip club or an oil refinery in a residential neighborhood are interfering with the free market. The overwhelming majority of policy people, legal experts, economists, scholars of ethics, and ordinary people are OK with that.

And, by the way, you say "what this guy wants" as though he were somehow trying to dictatorially impose his will. His job is to represent the interests of his constituents, who are obviously speaking up on the issue.

I get supply and demand,. but landlords don't have to rent to big chains who can afford absorbent amounts of rent.

Sure, a landlord who has a property worth $10,000 per month to a bank could rent it at $7,000 per month to a local business. That would be an nice contribution to the well being of the neighborhood, but it's an awfully big ask; it really is $3,000 per month straight out of his pocket. I don't realistically expect most landlords to go there.

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Real estate taxes on these

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Real estate taxes on these properties are enormous and go up every year so the landlord must charge more in rent. The street is also historic, a huge tourist attraction plus it is beautiful place for residents to shop and walk. The correct zoning - will help maintain its current status. Without it you will get something that looks like dot ave - auto repair places and parking lots like rotten teeth right next to residences - as opposed to centre st in west Roxbury. No offense to dot just using it as an example of bad or lack of zoning policy.

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Not quite.

Real estate taxes on these properties are enormous and go up every year so the landlord must charge more in rent.

The landlord is going to charge the market rent irrespective of whether the property taxes go up, go down, or go away altogether.

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separate thing

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For both of you--commercial leases contain clauses that deal with the tax. Typically, each tenant pays a portion of the tax. If if goes up, they pay more. So not rent, per se, but part of the cost of the lease. So not the landlords putting more money in their pocket, just passing on a cost.

When the rents are going up, it's not taxes to blame.

Is it an election year?

What with this and Mike Flaherty's "Keeping our residents employed with good jobs at good wages" mantra, you'd think the Boston city councilors were looking at serious challengers in a fall election.

But, it's not.

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No Lawyers need apply

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how about modeling Charles Street after Broadway in South Boston. Every other storefront is a busy Nail Salon. The neon signs in the windows are so inviting and festive unlike those stuffy Law Offices.

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How about, instead,

a couple of creative, positive suggestions?

The existing operation of the market is not producing a good outcome. We would rather have businesses that serve the neighborhood than bank branches or offices. We don't want to interfere unreasonably in the rights of people to put their business where they think best, or of landlords to rent out their properties.
Any ideas?

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clearly

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...things are either going to be bodegas, cell phone shops, dollar stores and nail salons or a row of banks and law offices that close at 5. There is no other solution. Clearly the laws of the market must prevail unless some landlord wants to buck that entire system and take a huge hit in rent (as his property taxes go up) to keep a nice street of diverse and independent businesses. That is the ONLY way we will have and maintain nice main streets with character.

Do people have these conversations with people in real life or is this only happening on blogs and comment boards?

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Say again?

'splain again how Boston carrying the cost of owning land in Woburn is providing one shred of benefit to the taxpayers Zakim was elected to represent?

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In his defense the business

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In his defense the business he mentioned are worthless or every day people. There are plenty of other banks in town.