They’re sprinkled throughout the city, often on prime pieces of real estate: CVS Pharmacy, Metro PCS, Petco, and, inevitably, Starbucks.
But a new city proposal would make it more difficult for large retail chains to open shop in local business districts.
City councilors are weighing a zoning change that would require chain stores — defined as a retailer with 11 or more stores worldwide — to seek a permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, allowing residents some say on new businesses before they can open.
“It creates opportunities for more locally owned businesses to thrive,” said Councilor Michelle Wu, who sponsored the proposal. The matter, which was introduced to the council Wednesday and sent to a committee for a review, mirrors laws passed elsewhere in the country, including San Francisco, Wu said.
Wu said the proposal was not meant to be anti-corporation, noting many chain stores, such as drugstores, have a place in every neighborhood.
Instead, Wu said, the effort is meant to preserve the efforts of local residents and small-business owners to shape the characters of their neighborhoods. That friction was on display recently when Starbucks attempted to move into Boston’s North End, historically an enclave of Italian-American business and culture. Mayor Martin J. Walsh ultimately sided with neighborhood residents in opposing the project, and the developer pulled the proposal.
Wu said that corporate stores can help anchor a neighborhood, but they are also in a position to pay higher rents, often forcing out locally owned businesses.
“We’ve seen now where corporations come in and have an adverse effect on the overall feel of the neighborhood, the look of the neighborhood,” Wu said, pointing to residents’ opposition to a Petco in Roslindale and a Popeye’s in Codman Square.
Currently, retail businesses do not need to pass any special zoning requirements, as long as they meet health and inspection codes relative to the nature of their business. The council proposal would require that franchises get a special condition permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which would add a layer of neighborhood scrutiny.
Councilor Kim Janey, who cosponsored the measure, said the proposal’s aim is to protect and encourage locally owned businesses who might get priced out by larger corporations.
“It’s just an opportunity for residents and neighbors to build community wealth,” she said.
But several city councilors also raised concerns with the proposal. While saying they welcomed the spirit of the proposal, they cautioned against tweaking a convoluted and complex zoning process, noting some changes to zoning laws may backfire.
Council President Andrea Campbell pointed out that the proposal could put more obstacles before a chain store that is looking to meet the demands of a specific community, such as a coffee shop that has the resources to provide late-night service in a neighborhood that doesn’t already have one.
“How do we be mindful of certain pockets of the city that do not have certain businesses but would welcome certain businesses?” Campbell said.