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Ross fights to keep Beacon Hill from being overrun by bank branches

City Councilor Mike Ross (Beacon Hill, Back Bay) wants to make it tougher for banks to open along Beacon Hill's main shopping street.

The City Council tomorrow considers a request from Ross for a hearing on a measure that would require banks to go before the zoning board for permission to open new branches. Currently, any bank can just waltz right in, sign a lease and open up, which created a neighborhood brouhaha recently when a Charles Street landlord proposed kicking out a beloved convenience store for a Capital One branch. Under Ross's plan, banking would become a "conditional use" along the five blocks of Charles Street through the heart of Beacon Hill, which would require banks to explain themselves to the zoning board.

In his hearing request, Ross said Beacon Hill is "a vibrant neighborhood with a diverse business community consisting of non-franchised, locally owned businesses that meet the needs of residents" and that "the proliferation of many large banking institutions that would replace small retail stores threatens to erode the character of Charles Street."

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Comments

I just love how when banks decide to take over store fronts in 'high class' neighborhoods, everyone's all up and arms. But haven't they noticed that other neighborhoods have been 'over banked' for years and nothing has been done.

Take a look around, you'll see many street corners that now have 2,3,4,5 bank branches on each. Do we REALLY need that many banks?

I wish the city would make it a City-Wide thing. I'm not all for regulation on store openings, however, I think boston is a bit 'over banked'.

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are under-banked rather than over-banked. I can't think of any struggling neighborhood that's really being overwhelmed with bank branches--can you? The big banks all want corner spots in high-traffic neighborhoods--In this era of online everything, I don't really understand the big rush return to brick and mortar banks, but it seems to be happening. I remember when that corner was a bank (can't remember which--Ban Franklin? Five Cent Savings Bank?) but it's been a convenience store for a long, long time now--30 plus years and with Deluca's still closed, it's the only place to go on Charles street for a soda or a newspaper or a late night pint of ice cream. I can understand why the neighbors are up in arms. I hope it doesn't happen, though if it does I hope the new JP Licks is a consolation.

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Cybah, there's no dark conspiracy here; Mike Ross represents Beacon Hill, therefore when people in Beacon Hill complain about too many bank branches, he gets involved. If people in, say, Mattapan also felt there were too many bank branches there, they could complain, too, and Robert Consalvo would get involved.

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Say I'm a landlord with property on Charles St. Bank offers me $X per month for that space. No one else can offer me half of that. The City is going to tell me (indirectly) that I can't lease to that tenant, because there are too many banks in the neighborhood?

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The steamroller's still coming through, but maybe you delay it a bit and get to make your point before you get the hell out of its way. "Conditional" means you're probably still going to get approved, but you have to experience the anguish of community meetings and a hearing before the zoning board before you get your approval. Now, if Ross had made the proposal even tougher, and required applicants to get a variance, which means you have to make a really, really good case on why you should get an exemption from zoning, that would be something.

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And a variance is whats needed for a storefront that will be closed more than it's open.

If you can't see the problem with a 9-4 (9-12 sat, closed sun) bank with little use replacing a local food market... well.

Like BOA, Capital One is expanding their retail locations for advertising and for getting around pesky federal banking regulations that require retail to allow them to get into other banking practices that they find more valuable. It's not that they particularly want these many banks, or that communities need them.

I am to open to the landlords concern and investment, but the community also wouldn't let a chemical plant, or an industrial manufacturing place go in this space either. Granted they probably wouldn't fit, but if the space was large enough and someone offered the money the idea is the same.

Banks are offering very little back to the community, especially these non-local behemoths. Hell, you don't even get a return on your deposit anymore, and have the privileged of paying them (fees) to hold on to your money.

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Cybah's comment above yours kinda crystalized my thoughts. I'd add that the Room for Debate series in the Times had a rep from the American Banker's Association justifying their fees in part by bemoaning the burden the overhead of branch locations.

As I said in the comments on the Times discussion:

Bank of America alone has four (!) branch locations within a six-block stretch of Boylston Street. At $30–40 per square foot, is this real estate BoA *really* needs in Boston?

I hope Councilor Ross gets something through (city-wide) to help balance things.

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I don't know all the rules, but if Hooters came by and offered you $8 million a month, you couldn't take that either. It's not all completely driven by the highest bidder.

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The area is zoned for residential, restaurants, shops and offices. If Hooters came to you and followed the rules - you can't stop them from opening unless they needed a variance or you could somehow get their liquor license tied up (this particular location as a non-restaurant may be off limits depending on the zoning). You can probably give them a hassle (which may be part of why the chains just go elsewhere), but if you really want to stop them I don't think you could.

I get the concern - I just don't think there's much Ross or anyone else can really do without redesigning the zoning code into much more specific permitted types of occupancy - and the state might have some say over that - not sure.

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All you need is for Patrcia Malone (aka Menino) to deny an entertainment license, without which the liquor license and building permits are useless.

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Zoning is one thing - no, you don't want a paper mill opening on Charles St. But fine-tuning a single street in one neighborhood?

Google shows there are 4 bank branches on or near Charles St. Is that too many? How are we judging that? Gut feeling?

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I think it's great, and this should be a city-wide rule, not just la de dah Beacon Hill. Most neighborhoods are "vibrant and diverse" before the banks and phone stores move in.

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I'm generally against the city getting involved in what should open where...and I cringe when I read "do we NEED X business" (as in, Boston doesn't "need" any more mexican restaurants/bars/liquor stores), but with banks opening branches, it seems to be nothing more than taking up retail space for advertising. I'd have to think branch usage is at an all-time low, yet there are more branches than ever. I'd equate this to Nike leasing 4-5 storefronts on charles and selling 1 pair of sneakers in each.

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that whats it's for.

People shouldn't get to say exactly what goes where, but there does need to be restrictions to guide an area. Residential areas should have zoning for stores beneficial to residential areas.

One look at the map tells us there's not exactly a need for more banks in Boston proper.

But you are right, zoning needs to be general and not point specific. I'm not sure if there's means to zone for exclusion of banks. But with their recent proliferation and overall drag to the local areas it might be worth thinking of adding provisions to control them.

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Your search for "banks" is pulling up ATMs as well. There's 3 banks on Charles Street: Sovereign, Hingham, and Cambridge Trust. Not exactly an overwhelming number. I do agree that an excess of bank branches can be a drag on the neighborhood. Usually a symptom of gentrification, though that doesn't really apply here. But I wouldn't want to employ zoning as a weapon that way. Too easy to get it wrong, and then it just comes down to whoever can pull the most strings. And banks can afford to do a lot of string-pulling.

Here's an (old) idea: instead of a "use-based" zoning code where some city planner dictates what residents get to have, adopt a "form-based" zoning code instead. And by "form" I mean impact on the street: frontage, maximum setback, general shape of the lot. Whatever the use is, the impact is limited because the form can be kept small. It's okay if banks open branches if they can't dominate the entire block and shut down an entire portion of the neighborhood after 4pm.

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...for the apparently rising number of bank robbers working our city lately!

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Maybe if the neighborhood didnt object to everything (including the expansion of Deluca's) they would get more than banks. Maybe if they didnt clutch their pearls over anyone who wants to sell a cocktail, or stay open past 9pm and then made to feel as if they were SATAN in front of neighborhood boards, maybe then small entrepreneurs would be able to come to landlords with plans that would be better than a bank.

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The bank went to the landlord, offering a lot more cash money, and the landlord decided to kick the frequently used market out for a renter offering to pay substantially more. The market was doing fine financially, serving the community and is somewhat needed due to the lack of a larger grocery around the area (besides wholefood way over by MGH).

Now next year (or when the lease is up) when all is said and done the bank will probably try to negotiate a much lower rate in line with other businesses around there / what the old rent was. If they don't get their way, they'll just move out and leave a empty storefront. Most likely they will get their way and stay, but you replaced a useful market for a national bank.

When you have deep pockets to play the long game, you can make up the rules as you go.

Usually landlords are a bit smarter then that, and forgo immediate increases in revenue for a guaranteed long term revenue stream. It's why they don't always raise rents yearly and tend to like stable, long term tenants who they can count on. The bank might be offering up quite a bit now, but being nationally owned and operated it's actually a bit more risky for the landlords, much more so then even locally owned and operated franchise's of national brands.

Look how quickly lager chains have been fleeing other areas of the city, leaving empty storefronts and inflated rents once it didn't make sense for them... where local businesses might have trudged by from working longer and harder hours.

If this was a small local bank or credit union with ties to Boston, I'm guessing the response would be much more muted. But it isn't, and people are educated enough to see how this game plays out. The financial crisis is also fresh in their mind.

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There are plenty of places to have a cocktail on Charles Street. And Deluca's--really? As far as Beacon Hill is concerned, Deluca's is the devil they know--everyone wants them re-opened but they haven't always been the best neighbor. They're like a pet bear--you love them but you keep a close eye on them so they don't take a bite out of your leg. At any rate, small entrepreneurs seem to be doing fine on Charles Street--an overwhelming number of girly clothing stores, IMHO, but they seem to be thriving.

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But if NIMBYs could put 2 and 2 together and realize they're complaining about externalities they caused themselves, then they probably wouldn't be NIMBYs in the first place.

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Maybe if DeLuca's market didn't treat the neighbors with such disrespect, they wouldn't oppose his trying to expand his commercial operation into a residential space?

Ask the neighbors and they'll say that he has made agreements with the abutters and with the co-owners of an alley, about where and when to store trash -- and then ignored those agreements. They'll say he has been caught re-dating expired merchandise, and, after the fire, moving condemned and fire-damaged merchandise out of Charles street, washing it, and putting it out for sale in his Back Bay store. They'll talk about him refusing to provide plans the way everyone else who is altering a building does. They'll point out that he does all these things, and then whines about how people are opposed to him.

I don't live over there, so I don't have the facts, but I find it extremely hard to believe that Virgil is some kind of innocent victim of a neighborhood vendetta. They don't raise a stink about any of the other dozen or so food businesses on that little stretch of Charles Street.

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Between his bleating about the number of students that can occupy a home, and his bleating about a bank branch outbidding a grocer for a building, he seems to think that Bostonians are utterly incapable of making their own choices.

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Really? I read it as exactly the opposite: as supporting Bostonians making their own choices about what kind of city they want, rather than let the choice be made by out-of-town real estate interests with well-funded legal and PR departments.

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Then, again, outbid the bank for the space.

Of course, I suppose we could alternatively close the city borders and keep everything the way they are. Might keep some of the riff-raff out.

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http://bostonrestaurants.blogspot.com/2012/05/perm...

"Tuesday, May 08, 2012
Permit Denied for Villa Mexico in Boston's Beacon Hill

A Mexican restaurant in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood that is losing its home within a Cambridge Street Gas Station had a hearing today with the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals, and the news was not good for the little eatery.

According to their Facebook page, Villa Mexico on Cambridge Street was denied a permit to open on nearby Grove Street, which seems to put the future of the restaurant--at least for staying in the Beacon Hill neighborhood--in doubt.

More will surely be coming about any next steps and/or decisions for Villa Mexico; as soon as we hear more, we will post an update here.

In the meantime, Villa Mexico remains open for now at 296 Cambridge Street."

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