(Photo provided by Ken Scott)
When Capital One Bank tried in February to replace the current Charles Street Market, it caused an uproar among the residents of Beacon Hill.
More than 1,300 residents signed a petition to block the market from being replaced by the bank branch, a change that requires approval from the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals since the space is zoned partially as residential.
Capital One eventually withdrew its request to move into the 66 Charles St. location. The bank, which has plans to expand in Massachusetts, could still resubmit its request to take over the site.
Charles Street Market has filed a proposal with the Inspection Services Department to relocate across the street, which, if approved, would open up the location to the bank once again. The bank has not released information about any future plans regarding the migration to the neighborhood.
Six Beacon Hill residents who signed the petition opposing the bank moving into the Charles Street space shared their thoughts on the situation.
Name: Kenneth Scott
Occupation: Retired, formerly worked in financial mathematics
Lived on Beacon Hill since: 1955-1989, 2001-present
Why did you sign this petition? “I have nothing against banks, but banks are unfriendly neighbors, by which I mean they don’t draw a lot of street traffic, they keep relatively short hours so they’re not open early and they’re not open late, so that if you’re walking on the street there tends to be a dark hole, especially at night.”
How do you feel about the bank’s withdrawal? “I think that’s terrific. I don’t think that’s a good location for a bank, so if they have withdrawn their petition that means they’re not going to pursue that, at least not that way, at this moment in time.”
Name: Muriel Finegold
Occupation: Former social worker/organizational consultant
Lived on Beacon Hill since: 1992
Why did you sign this petition? “Charles Street does not need another bank, for one thing. For another thing, that is a prime corner at the heart of the Hill on a commercial street. We have five banks that nobody goes into, there’s no traffic in them, they’re dark at night, they’re dark early in the morning; we’ve had several robberies at the banks. They don’t lend anything to the vitality of the street and we don’t need another one. They contribute nothing to the community.
“We have a lovely little corner market there which the street needs. The neighbors who live here need stores that provide the goods and services that we use that lend vitality to the street ... and invite people to come to Charles Street.”
Name: Bernard Borman
Occupation: Retired, former attorney
Lived on Beacon Hill since: 1960
Why did you sign this petition? “Charles Street is unique in my experience. I don’t know anywhere in the United States that’s like it. It has a 19th century charm to it, even though it does service 21st century activities.
“Also, it’s a very valuable neighborhood. Beacon Hill is a unique residential area in the United States and it needs small storefront shops which it has, but it’s become vulnerable to rent gouging. It’s the national outfits and particularly banks and real estate offices which seem to be expanding insidiously. It was time to put a stop to it, but there isn’t much recourse ... the reason we were able to oppose this one is because they needed a zoning variance. It is, after all, zoned for offices and retail use. I believe there’s already eight banks servicing the Beacon Hill neighborhood.”
How do you feel about the bank’s withdrawal? “I know that the battle is never over. It will be interesting and difficult to deal with because it depends what this landlord is going to come up with next. He paid $4.1 million for that corner spot. He obviously wants to kick the rent up beyond what a typical local operator can pay, including a really much needed grocery store down there. One thing you learn whether you’re fighting a sky scraper or some little thing like this, it’s never over.”
Name: Renee Walsh
Occupation: Senior VP of Marketing & Business Development for Byram Health Care
Lived on Beacon Hill since: 1997
Why did you sign this petition?
“Because [my husband and I] are against more banks coming on to Charles Street in addition to the fact that Charles Street Market brings a sense of community to our neighborhood. It’s a natural daily stop ... or an evening stop if you’re a resident.”
How do you feel about the bank’s withdrawal? “I’m pleased that they’ve withdrawn at this point, however the concern is the unknown and what’s the next step. So they temporarily withdrew, but what does that mean for us and our neighborhood, and what does it mean for the business of Charles Street Market?”
Name: Darryl PomicterOccupation: Business manager
Lived on Beacon Hill since: 1967
Why did you sign this petition? “I think there’s a need for better zoning on the Hill. It’s not because I’m against banks — the issue is getting clouded. I think there are too many banks, but to choose one bank over another would be wrong. In this case, [it’s] a zoning issue, and the neighborhood is right to have more input on what’s an appropriate move. If it were going in the middle of a block in a commercial place, it wouldn’t be the same, and that’s getting lost in the publicity.
“So that’s the main issue, is to get more awareness in the neighborhood of the rights and responsibilities, they have input on zoning issues .... it’s not just business, it’s also residential. It could be somebody wants to build more residential. The second part of it is, it is a prominent center of the neighborhood. There’s a current business open 24 hours a day serving need and providing activity, and the proposal seemed to be to put a couple of cash machines in, losing all of that activity.
“I remember that building was built and was a long time ago a bank. It was Suffolk Franklin Savings Bank, but that was in the ’60s and ’70s, it was a different neighborhood at the time. But this particular application seems to be a bit ... unclear about their intentions. And there is a legitimate zoning issue.
“The business was there for a long time, it was a 7-Eleven and then it sold out, and the individual who has owned it for the last period of time invested in that business in the last couple of years. He made that a much stronger participant in the community and it seems that he’s just getting bought out by someone with more money and less good intentions.”
How do you feel about the bank’s withdrawal? “We’re getting all of these banks on Beacon Hill that have nothing to do with the neighborhood. Some of them do; the Cambridge Trust Company has been a great participant in the neighborhood … but I don’t understand why they just want to put up a cash machine or open an office.
“The banks have a responsibility along with other businesses to participate in the community and a number of them don’t. Many of the businesses struggle trying to get enough foot traffic and enough business; to put in cash machines only takes up retail space. Even to put in a full bank office on a prominent corner is draining the commercial blood from the neighborhood.”
Name: Joan Berndt
Occupation: Civic volunteer
Lived on Beacon Hill since: 2008
Why did you sign this petition? “Because I am very concerned about the direction that Charles Street could take if there were a lot more purely office uses being introduced on the street that should be one to serve both local residents and draw tourists to the neighborhood. We have many friends still in the suburbs, and when they learned of the interests of yet another bank coming on to Charles Street they said, ‘Please, please, please don’t let that happen.’
“It’s already bad enough in many of the suburbs … I don’t want to castigate a particular industry or kind of business, but … it’s great to have a couple nail salons, a couple of this, a couple of that; but we don’t need six or more of the same business. We want variety. Charles Street used to have variety; it used to be a destination, and the more banks and offices you get in prime locations, the less it’s a destination.”
How do you feel about the bank’s withdrawal? “I was pleased to see that. I think they need to do a bit more research and find a spot that really needs them. I’m sure there are many areas in the city that would appreciate what Capital One could offer.
“I just don’t feel that they are moving into an appropriate location that is already very, very well served by a number of financial institutions, and you don’t have to look very far to find a large bank office or a small branch or an ATM. We need more businesses that are going to draw foot traffic and make Charles St. a fun place to visit and shop, not a bank.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.