CONCORD, MA — Earlier this month you may have seen flyers asking you to “Please help protect the character of Concord’s historic center” because chain stores/formula businesses/franchises may be taking over the existing storefronts. Some business owners and residents have asked why there is no limitation or prohibition on the number of formula businesses in Concord Center, when there is a limitation for the West Concord Business and West Concord Village districts.
So how does Concord define ‘formula business’? The definition of formula business, as well as a limitation on the number of such businesses, is found in the Zoning Bylaw and is only applicable in the West Concord Business District and the West Concord Village District. A formula business is defined as a type of business activity that maintains two or more of the following standardized features: 1) array of services and/or merchandise or menu; 2) trademark, logo, service mark or symbol; 3) décor, architecture, layout or color scheme; 4) uniforms; 5) sign – and these features are the same as or substantially the same as fifteen or more such establishments regardless of ownership or location. However, formula business does not include post offices, churches, schools, government facilities, grocery stores or accessory uses.
Why is there a limitation on the number of formula businesses only in West Concord? In 2008, challenges were identified which simultaneously threatened the character of the West Concord Village yet provided an opportunity to look more closely at the Village and guide its growth and development. The desires to define, prioritize, and address these challenges led to appointing the West Concord Task Force that began a two-year outreach and planning effort, which culminated in the 2010 West Concord Village Center Master Plan. One of the recommendations of the 2010 Plan was to define formula businesses and to limit the number of businesses for the purpose of preserving the individuality and distinctive appeal of the West Concord Business and the West Concord Village districts (you can read more about this in subsection 3.3 of the Concord Zoning Bylaw). This recommendation was based on the goals identified in various plans and reports beginning with the Comprehensive Long Range Plan in 2005. The total number of formula businesses was limited to ten and establishing a new formula business requires a special permit from the Planning Board.
Why not Concord Center, too? Concord Center is part of the Main Street Historic District which means that any change to a building or any new sign requires review and a determination of appropriateness from the Historic Districts Commission. While some may say that the character of Concord Center doesn’t rest on historic appearance alone, it goes a long way toward having a ‘sense of place’ that attracts people to visit and return. There hasn’t been a comparable outreach and planning effort of Concord Center as there was of West Concord to conclude that limiting the number of formula businesses (and defining what that number might be) would be beneficial to the preservation of the existing character, diversity, variety and scale of Concord Center. Additionally, a zoning bylaw amendment to establish a limitation on the number of formula businesses in Concord Center that might be proposed for consideration at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting would have no impact on the existing formula businesses in Concord Center or on any application currently before the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Questions can be directed to the Planning Department at 978-318-3290 or by emailing the Director of Planning, Marcia Rasmussen at firstname.lastname@example.org.