Saturday, January 07, 2012

Why The Charles Street Market Matters


Charles Street Market
Boston
January 7, 2012

A zoning decision at Boston City Hall scheduled for February 28 could have a significant impact on the vibrancy of the Beacon Hill community in Boston. And in what could only be called ironic, protecting the neighborhood involves, as one neighbor pointed out in a community meeting this week, defending 7/11 community markets.

The issue involves a local supermarket, called the Charles Street Market, which sits at the corner of Charles and Mt. Vernon Streets on Beacon Hill. Many would call that corner the geographic epicenter of the community. There's significant foot traffic from residents and visitors. Mt. Vernon is one of the few two-way streets within Beacon Hill, while Charles Street is essentially the neighborhood's main street, and the market is located where they intersect. The community selects that corner each year as the location for its Christmas Tree. Local groups, such as the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA), have significant plans for the spot, including a potential outdoor "mall" where traffic is prohibited.

Capital One Bank, which only recently entered retail banking, would like to take over the space occupied by the market. The bank has outbid the owner of the market to rent the space. The current building owner bought the property from the 7/11 market chain a year ago. He found a tenant willing to continue the market, and the shop changed names to the current Charles Street Market.

The possibility of losing the market has neighbors very upset. I attended community this past week on the issue. Representatives from Capital One and the owner of the building appeared before the Beacon Hill Civic Association's Zoning and Licensing committee. You see, in order for Capital One to move in, they need a variance from Boston's Zoning board, because the property in question is licensed as both retail and residential. As part of that process, they must appear before the community.

BHCA zoning & licensing committee meeting
74 Joy Street, Boston
January 4, 2012

I have never been to a better attended community meeting, including during the recent debate about the future of Suffolk University. The room was packed (others told me today the count was about 180). And in a manner that is somewhat atypical for my neighbors, we didn't pull out the pitchforks and torches. The reasoning for universal opposition to losing the market was quite rational.

One neighbor noted how the market is the only place on the street she can visit late at night when she feels threatened. Another talked about the over saturation of banks on Charles Street. Another noted how the neighborhood is being victimized by the bank--Capital One is placing branches in other strategic locations in downtown Boston, including in the Back Bay-- as part of a broader marketing strategy.

Perhaps the most sensible, and passionate, part of the meeting came when two well-known members of the local business community, Babak Bina (who owns two restaurants near Charles Street) and Ivy Turner (a local real estate agent), took the floor. Bina said it pained him, "as a fellow business owner, to oppose another business owner," but that Capital One's takeover of the corner would "hurt other businesses" on the street. He noted how several of the past presidents of the Beacon Hill Business Association (himself included) opposed the variance (e.g. they don't want the bank to come).

Turner's plea was conciliatory, and in my opinion, effective. She asked the owner of the building to work with local business owners, who would be willing to help to find an appropriate tenant for the space. Turner summarized the sentiment of the room-- that we all believe losing the market would hurt the neighborhood--in a way that provided the building owner an escape hatch. I only hope the owner will take it.

1 comment:

ben said...

This reallly isn't about "saving" the market as the neighborhood has no say in that decision by ownership. In fact, he wouldn't have nearly the defenders if Deluca's were viable. This about blocking a detrinental use. The neighbors need to focus on that.