The City Council agreed today to consider a proposal by councilors Michelle Wu, Kim Janey and Lydia Edwards that would require retail and restaurant chains to get zoning-board approval before opening any new outlets in the city's "local business" districts.
The councilors say the measure would not stop chains from opening new outlets, but would require more formal consideration of neighborhood concerns before they go forward. Although Starbucks generated controversy with a proposed outlet at the gateway to the North End, Wu said the measure is in response to chainification across the city - she pointed to the now failed Petco in Roslindale Square as well as a Popeye's under construction in Codman Square.
Wu said said the measure, based on similar ordinances in other cities, would help local businesses that now find themselves under assault by national chains looking to glom onto the successful neighborhood districts the local business owners built. She said that by requiring zoning-board hearings, the measure would let residents and officials gauge how well a chain would mesh with a neighborhood on everything from early morning trash removal to local hiring.
"We cannot and should not treat a Starbucks like a local coffee shop; they should be treated differently," Edwards, who represents the North End, said.
Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain/West Roxbury) said he supported the general idea, but cautioned against unintended consequences - he wondered whether the proposal would affect chains such as Roche Bros. and JP Licks, which are both local.
In their request for a hearing at which to consider the proposal, the councilors write:
Small businesses and locally owned businesses contribute to the economic and social vitality of the neighborhoods throughout the City of Boston. ... The City of Boston should recognize the importance of small and locally owned businesses in its land use and planning objectives and provide a welcoming environment to allow such businesses to thrive and be successful. ... The City Council understands the need for retail variety and the most viable retail environments offer a variety of retailers; however, the proliferation of chain retail stores in neighborhoods of the City takes away from the aesthetic characteristics of the neighborhoods and adversely impacts smaller businesses and locally-owned businesses.
Their proposed ordinance, which would require approval of the Boston Zoning Commission, defines a chain as any company with at least 11 outlets, anywhere in the world.
In addition to the eleven establishments either in operation or with local land use or permit entitlements approved for operation, the business maintains two or more of the following features: a standardized array of merchandise, a standardized facade, a standardized decor and color scheme, uniform apparel, standardized signage, a trademark or a servicemark.