Councilors Edwards, Wu File Chain Store Zoning Legislation

Acting on the controversy regarding a second Starbucks location in the North End, and the ever-creeping chain store presence on Main Street in Charlestown, Councilor Lydia Edwards said she has aligned with Councilors Michelle Wu and Kim Janey to try to bring protections to local business districts.

Recently, Edwards said she was alerted to the issue of chain stores locating in small business districts when Starbucks attempted to open a second location in the North End. Similar issues have arisen in Charlestown as chains have located on Main Street in the last year as well.

“It’s going to give the neighborhoods protections that don’t exist right now,” she said. “A lot of times these companies can come in by right and they’ve located here before anyone knows about it.”

Wu and Edwards now have filed legislation to remove as-of-right designations for chain stores in Boston’s neighborhood business districts. The proposal, entered at today’s Council meeting, would amend the City of Boston’s Zoning Code to regulate formula retail uses, also known as chain stores, and require a conditional use permit for any such business to open and operate in a neighborhood business district.

Chain stores would be defined as retail or service establishments that have 11 or more locations worldwide, and two or more of the following features:  a standardized array of merchandise, a standardized façade, a standardized décor and color scheme, uniform apparel, standardized signage, a trademark or a servicemark.

The amendment would not prohibit chain stores in any location. Instead, it would give residents and community members the opportunity to weigh in through the public process of obtaining a conditional use permit. The Councilors observed that national or multinational corporations can impact both the cultural fabric of the business district and the ability for locally-owned small businesses to survive and thrive. Several other cities across the country, including several in New England, already have such laws in place that have survived legal challenge.

“Small businesses across the city are facing commercial gentrification and increasing pressure from national chains,” said Councilor Wu. “This legislation supports jobs in our neighborhoods by giving residents and stakeholders a voice, so that our business districts are not just shaped by which multinational corporations can offer the highest rents.”

Edwards added, “This zoning change prioritizes local businesses and increases transparency in development and evens the playing field to assure local businesses have a fighting chance,” said Councilor Edwards. “Our recent experience with Starbucks in the North End, demonstrates now more than ever that with increased development we need zoning codes that assure our local businesses have a certain level of protection and the chain stores have a level of accountability to our neighborhoods.”

The zoning text amendment was assigned to the Council’s Committee on Planning, Development, and Transportation, chaired by Councilor Wu, for a hearing before a potential vote by the Council. As of now, there still has been no hearing scheduled on the matter, but one is expected when the Council picks back up after the summer.

If approved by the Council, it would be formally submitted to the Boston Zoning Commission for approval.

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