Imagine that you're a florist. You've spent years working in the industry, you've learned the art of arrangement and now you're ready to strike out on your own. So you begin scouting for locations and then, there it is, the ideal place for your dream shop, which you envision in an old house a couple of doors down from a small neighborhood market on a street lined with single-family homes.

You're sure that you can quickly renovate the house and transform it into a thriving flower shop, and you're optimistic that the location, so close to that market, will bring you the foot traffic you need to make your shop a success. So you put together a business plan and, when you're ready, you approach the Bureau of Development Services (BDS) to begin the necessary steps to bring your shop to the neighborhood.

But then you learn that that old house in which you want to set up shop is zoned residential, not commercial, and that the cost of petitioning BDS to change the zoning, through a comprehensive plan map (CPM) amendment, is going to run you about $28,000. And to top it off, the amendment isn't guaranteed.

So you're faced with a choice: either pay the fee to apply to have the CPM amended and cross your fingers that it is, or continue looking for other sites that you're certain are not as attractive as the one you presently covet.

This perceived obstacle is what motivated commissioner Dan Saltzman's office last month to announce that, effective immediately, BDS will now offer two tiers of payment to amend such CPM zoning changes, which may make it less financially burdensome for potential small business owners.

According to Matt Grumm, one of Saltzman's representatives, the lowered fee schedule for eligible parties will now start at around $10,000 for a proposed Comprehensive Map/Zone Change (CM/ZC) amendment.

For a long time, Grumm explains, BDS, which Saltzman's office oversees, charged around $28,000 per request because, on average, that was how much it could cost for BDS to consider such requests. Among the labor costs BDS incurs for such requests are drafting and mailing notices about such proposals, as well as preparing for and writing summary reports for public hearings and appeals. Built into that fee, Grumm says, were estimated costs for controversial developments that often take a lot of time and energy to summarize for the public.

But, he says, not all proposals can be considered controversial. That's why parties eligible for the lower fee must meet a few parameters, including that the proposed site (your flower shop) be no larger than 5,000 square feet and either abut or be located within 200 feet of a similarly zoned site (the market). Such parties must also provide BDS with documentation that the neighborhood association overseeing the neighborhood in which the site is proposed is not opposed to the proposal.

Russell neighborhood resident Bonny McKnight, who sits on the board of the city's Development Review Advisory Committee, said the new fee schedule might just provide the incentive for potential business owners eager to establish themselves in their neighborhoods of choice.

She speculates that, in the past, CM/CZ amendments might have deterred some business owners, because the fees associated with the amendment could often be more expensive than the new businesses' projected construction and remodeling costs.

The new fee, she says, levels the playing field and lets "the little guys" stay in the game. It is, after all, she says, the little guys who live here, hire locally and grow their business from the neighborhoods in which those businesses begin.

"More importantly for me," she says, "it has to be accompanied by documentation from the neighborhood associations."

That fact, she says, still allows neighborhood residents to continue planning for and shaping how their communities develop.

Still, Grumm says that even if all the lower fee requirements are met, there is no guarantee that the CP/ZC will be approved by City Council. They maintain their regulatory discretion to either approve or deny the request. But, he adds, it provides applicants with more of an incentive to try, and it inspires more confidence that Council will approve the application.

He also says BDS staff is uncertain how many CP/ZC applications will be submitted under this tiered system, considering that it's likely most potential business owners often just kept looking for new locations without citing their obstacles to the city.

"We'll just throw it out there and see what happens," says Grumm. "We hope word gets out and that people can take advantage of it."