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.