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City Councilor Wants To Ban New Banks On Charles Street

By Thomas Grillo, Boston Business Journal
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BOSTON (CBS) – If Boston City Councilor Michael Ross gets his way, there won’t be any more banks on Charles Street deposited at the foot of the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

“The proliferation of large banks that would replace the small mom-and-pop stores threatens to erode the character of Charles Street,” Ross said.

“For banks to occupy a 50-foot storefront, shut down at 5 p.m. and be closed on weekends creates dead space. We’re talking about a commercial business district that is thriving and it needs to be protected.”

Under Ross’ plan, banks would be required to seek city Zoning Board of Appeals approval to open new branches on the street.

Today, no such regulation exists unless a potential bank would represent a change of use.

His proposal comes on the heels of a controversy in January when Capital One sought to lease the space to be vacated by the Charles Street Market, a beloved convenience store.

Neighbors organized to keep Capital One out, arguing that more banks would hurt the street that works best with independent shops and upscale boutiques that are not available on Newbury Street and Downtown Crossing.

In response, Linear Retail Properties, the Burlington landlord, withdrew the Capital One request.

But Ross’ plan faces a fight from Mayor Thomas M. Menino.  He said Ross’ idea would wreak havoc on Charles Street by requiring a special permit for one kind of retailer.

“That’s reactionary zoning and we don’t do that,” Menino told the BBJ.

“I’d rather work with the businesses on Charles Street to have an effective way to deal with the issue. I’d rather make an effort to entice, not prohibit certain kind of uses. I’m not even sure we could have a zoning amendment that just excludes banks.”

Menino and the Boston Redevelopment Authority do not appear to be on the same page when it comes to zoning Charles Street.

The BRA has proposed an amendment that would make banks, post offices, and office buildings a “conditional use” in the district — a status that would require a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing for approval.

The item was on the BRA’s board agenda on Tuesday night, but was pulled at the last minute. A Menino spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the differing positions.

Ross’ idea has the support of the Beacon Hill Business Association and at least one city councilor.

Susan Symonds, the past president of the group, said adding banks to an “intimate neighborhood shopping district” like Charles Street detracts from its destination feeling.

“People will not come to Charles Street anymore if it’s not a shopping destination,” she said.

“Banks don’t add much to the neighborhood. You don’t visit Newbury Street or Charles Street to go to a bank. Most people bank online anyway.”

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal can be seen weekdays at 6 a.m. on WBZ-TV.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @lvanderpool.

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