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Hyde Park Burger King wins city license; neighborhood groups split

City of Boston Licensing Board 5-13-20

The Boston Licensing Board this morning approved a Burger King in the Shops at Riverwood strip mall on River Street, with the support of one neighborhood group pleased to finally see a restaurant, even if a Burger King, move into the mall and the outraged opposition of another neighborhood group, which accused the developer and the chain of exacerbating the poor health of black residents in the surrounding area.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce and member Liam Curran voted in favor of granting a food-serving license to the 50-seat outlet; member Keeana Saxon voted against.

At a contentious hearing held on Zoom yesterday, mall developer Todd Finard said he first began looking for a restaurant for the mall more than 14 years ago, as his company tore down the long closed Bay State Paper mill to make way for the mall.

Finard said he tried his best to get a restaurant serving good food to open a sit-down restaurant, ideally one with outdoor seating and the like and that he spoke to "every conceivable restaurant operator I could find," even Bertucci's, the 99 and IHOP, but that none ever committed to opening there.

Finally, he said, he found the Dhanani Group of Sugar Land, TX, which operates 850 Burger King franchises across the country, including many in New England. Construction on the new restaurant finished earlier this year.

Barbara Hamilton, president of the East River Street Neighborhood Association, which has been working with Finard all this time, acknowledged that "Burger King was not our first choice," but told the licensing board that her group supported its opening.

But members of the Belnel Family Neighborhood Association, on the other side of the mall, vehemently opposed the proposal.

First, they slammed the mayor's office for failing to alert them to the idea of a Burger King until earlier this year.

But then they tore into the very idea of a Burger King, another fast-food joint in the middle of a predominantly black neighborhood, one that already struggles with obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

They urged the board to reject the chain's request for a food-serving license as a menace to that community in general and to its children in particular - such as the hundreds of students across the street at the Boston Preparatory Charter School and behind the mall at the Match Community Day Charter School. Such a rejection would be especially critical now, when Covid-19 is ravaging the black community in particular, and the last thing people need is fast food that would only worsen, or start, the underlying conditions that could make getting Covid-19 even riskiers.

One speaker called the restaurant "essentially a public-health genocide against this community." Others did not go to that extreme, but said kids don't need another place to load up on fatty, salty fast food when there are already Burger Kings in Mattapan and Roslindale, not to mention other nearby fast-food outlets, including McDonald's, Subway and Papa Gino's.

"We don't need it, we don't want it and we really want our children to be healthy," Mukiya Baker-Gomez said.

Marilynne Smith Quarcoo pointed to heavy traffic on River Street and said that in addition to the dietary issues, she objected to the restaurant's proposed midnight closing time - when the Burger King on Cummins Highway in Mattapan is only open until 8 p.m. Longer hours only increase the odds that the outlet will "criminalize more youth in our community, not even just youth because we know that adults are criminalized [as well]," she said.

An official at the Match school also urged the board to reject the proposed license, saying the school tries to get students to eat healthy, so the last thing they need is "another unhealthy food operation" in the neighborhood.

Resident Gladys Frias said, "We don't want kids congregating there when they should be in school or going home for the day."

Representatives for city councilors Ricardo Arroyo (Hyde Park, Mattapan and Roslindale), Michelle Wu (at large) and Annissa Essaibi George (at large) asked the board to defer action so that Finard could meet again with the Belnel group to try to work out their differences.

Finard expressed frustration at getting caught in the crossfire between the East River Street and Belnel groups. He said City Hall directed him from the outset to work with East River Street and that he wouldn't have had a problem working with Belnel, but that he was only doing what the mayor's office told him to do.

Hamilton, of the East River Street group, expressed frustration as well. She said that, unlike Belnel, her group has had regular meetings for years and that it's long considered the interests of Belnel residents and tried to get them to come to her group's meeting on common issues - to the point of "flyering" houses in that area.

The board has rejected fast-food outlets over nutritional and neighborhood-saturation issues in the past.

But in her questioning of Finard yesterday, Joyce indicated she did not find that a valid argument here, because the nearest fast-food chain outlet to the site, a Subway shop, is 1.1 miles away. Curran and Saxon did not indicate their positions during the hearing.

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Comments

What does this even mean?

Longer hours only increase the odds that the outlet will "criminalize more youth in our community, not even just youth because we know that adults are criminalized [as well]," she said.

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Voting closed 30

That the speaker needs some (expletive) hobbies.

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Voting closed 18

She's referring to the readiness of some fast-food managers to call the cops when kids do more than just sit there quietly, getting them involved in the criminal justice system early in a way white kids acting the same would not be.

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Voting closed 23

That has nothing to do with longer hours. If something like that happens, it's going to be right after school is dismissed, in the early afternoon.

Or, are you implying that teenagers (regardless of race) are likely to show up to BK and "do more than just sit there quietly" after 8pm? If that's the case, they should all get the cops called on them - nothing good can come out of that (eg. low-paid fast-food worker receiving serious bodily harm)...

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Voting closed 11

What specifically counts as "do more than just sit there quietly" and why do we expect more leniency from the police than we'd expect in the suburbs? If kids are playing music loudly (is that what happens?) and don't turn it down when an employee asks then what option does the restaurant have? Is that fair to other customers who would like to just enjoy (yeah, I know it's BK) their meal? If they're getting into fights (is that it?) then the police probably should be involved.

If a fast food manager is calling the cops unreasonably often over petty stuff then the cops should address that with management/ownership. And there are a lot of things the police can do which are short of giving kids a ride down to the local station. And maybe parents/schools ought to be doing a better job of reinforcing acceptable standards of behavior in public in a civil society.

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Voting closed 11

Hold on. BK veteran of the one that was on Morrissey Boulevard up until about 2004.

Burger King was a perfect first job for my teenage tush. It taught me or reinforced my already set knowledge of cleaning, how to interact with weird people both customers and weird fellow employees, time management, negotiating with a boss who is not smarter than you, negotiating the orders of drunk drivers, and how to keep quiet when you accidently pushed the panic button.

It was a good job. It was the first job for a lot of the neighborhood utes both black and white. Sure, there was some teenage pregnancies within our ranks, but that was Dot back then, but overall there was not a lot of bad actors around. Criminalizing youth? Burger King just made you smell like a burger and may have enhanced your acne a bit.

Ming Tsai's latest isn't coming to River Street anytime soon, nor is Harvest On The Neponset setting up next to a Price Rite.

Eating healthy is great, yes, but sometimes you want those Chicken Fries. You need that Whopper, and you don't want the neighborhood watch (or a charter school) telling you to eat your peas.

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Voting closed 50

“But then they tore into the very idea of a Burger King, another fast-food joint in the middle of a predominantly black neighborhood, one that already struggles with obesity, diabetes and hypertension.“

If you watch the hearing, they discuss 3 “fast-food joints” (including Papa Gino’s, which is questionable), none of which are within a mile of this new Burger King.

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Voting closed 13

I think one of the main issues here is that strip mall style development tends to only attract large national chains. If you build a building that is attractive to national fast food chains, that's what you're going to get. We need more neighborhood-oriented development that's not surrounded by asphalt that will attract small local businesses.

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Voting closed 23

This mall is on the site of a paper mill and the approved development here is not fully built out even though this place is 10 years old this month. That is a hell of a long time in the development world. This place was pushed as retail and not residential as part of Menino's push to lower food deserts and bring people together. This is part of the last of the property's build out.

You would be surprised but this area does have a lot of small local businesses. There are really very, very few empty storefronts in Cleary Square, along River Street, and in Mattapan Square. The overall local retail market is healthy with a lot of local businesses.

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Voting closed 14

I grew up in a suburb that had a lot of 60s and 70s strip malls. There were, and still are, plenty of interesting local businesses. It helps that there were small storefronts.

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Voting closed 12

Dollar Tree, Price Rite, and Save-a-Lot are so successful because their faithful shoppers ( I am one of them ) can't afford to shop at CVS, the cosmetic counter at Macy's, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods, or Star Market. I also tried to see if I could do some shopping at my local farmer's market and had to walk away with nothing because I couldn't afford it. I don't qualify for EBT either because I work and the government thinks I make too much money (that's a joke). I can't afford shit, so I shop at Dollar Tree and Save-a-Lot on American Legion Highway in Roslindale and hope to God they never shut down!!!

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Voting closed 5

One thing that the "community" group hasn't considered: are the kids really going to patronize a restaurant serving only healthy foods? Even when setting aside the huge cost difference between fast food and healthy foods, there's also so much social pressure and stigma that comes from within - ie. from the kids themselves. Exhibit A: Michelle Obama's campaign to put healthy foods in public school meals. Food waste went through the roof - not the protein, but definitely side fruits and veggies, and whole grains to a lesser extent.

I'm not pro-fast food, but rather just pointing out the sad but obvious reality.

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Voting closed 13

Go, Keena! Good for you voting against and trying to stop big corporate fast good icons from trying to pop up in minority neighborhoods. You would never see Burger King trying to pop up now in Brookline, Jamaica Plain, or Chestnut Hill. I'm over 50, and if I ever get another craving such heart failure, the nearest McDonald's for me it Egelston Square. Keep trying to push that Dollar Menu on the "poor stupid people" . Goddamn.

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Voting closed 15

Kudos to the residents who stood up to another corporate junk food outlet in their neighborhood.

Quite disappointing -but not entirely surprising- that the mayor's office offered unconditional support to it. That likely that was enough to sway the vote to a yes.

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Voting closed 17

Watch the video. There is no other corporate junk food outlet in their neighborhood.

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Voting closed 20

A mile seems like a hundred miles if your body is already half ravaged by junk food.
The people in this neighborhood have been cheated once again.

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Voting closed 7

Will you sign my petition to close El Oriental in JP? That food is just full of fat and calories! Also we MUST ban all chinese restaurants in town, or at those that are anywhere near poor people. Las Palmas in Roslindale will have to go to, just deep fried plantains for days in that house of evil.

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Voting closed 19

Boston is a city. A mile is the distance between Copley Square and Downtown Crossing. A mile is a long way to go not because it's a particularly long walk (although a forty minute round trip by foot eats up your time) but because in a city there's a lot of stuff in between. Hyde Park isn't as dense as the Back Bay/Downtown of course, but from this location if you walk a mile in one direction you're in Cleary Square and in the other direction you're in Mattapan Square.

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Voting closed 7

would have been nice.. Look on a map where the closest one near here. 3 miles to West Roxbury or 2-3 to East Milton Square.

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Voting closed 11

Is less than a hundred years old. Before Boston passed a law saying no one could build taller than the Church in Copley Square all zoning was state regulated. You could pretty much do whatever you wanted as long as it was your own land.

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Voting closed 5

Could Boston ban high fructose corn syrup and super-size drinks and fries, the same way Brookline and Cambridge (attempted to) ban trans fats?

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Voting closed 5