An overflowing committee room at City Hall set the scene for the next installment of the controversial saga of the Ossington strip.
Toronto and East York Community Council passed a number of amended zoning by-laws today brought forth by a study into the transition of the strip from largely industrial to residential and commercial.
Sandy MacFadyen, owner of Reposado Bar & Lounge, was just one of a number of local business owners to speak before the community council. He sees the new by-laws as far too restrictive to allow businesses to flourish.
“If these restrictions were in place, the area never could have expanded in the first place,” he said.
The debate stems from a year-long moratorium placed on the area last spring prohibiting any new restaurant or bar development for the period of one year. The freeze was put in place to give city staff time to assess the situation and develop the report.
Many of MacFadyen’s fellow entrepreneurs from the area echoed his sentiment. The suggestions brought forth by the city greatly restrict the opportunity for growth, virtually outlawing second floor establishments and patios as well as imposing a 175 square metre limit for future establishments.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina, expressed sympathy for Ossington’s business owners, but defended the recommendations. His concern is with the concentration of late night establishments in the area.
Of the 128 properties located within the area, 27 of them have one or more restaurant operating on the premises. This kind of concentration can cause problems with noise and vandalism.
“The challenge is to control the hooliganism of the 2 a.m. close,” he said.
But Vaughan put a hopeful spin on the by-law. He maintains the goal is not to extinguish growth, but to proceed cautiously to maintain responsible development. He assured all who are concerned that responsible business owners were not the targets and there are exceptions to every rule.
“This is a collection of thresholds, not limits,” he said. “If a restaurant is able to maintain a good standing in the community over a period of time, there is an opportunity to make exceptions.”
But many of the business owners weren’t buying his optimism. Nicolette Potter, proprietor of The Painted Lady agreed with MacFadyen that the recommendations went too far.
Part of what concerns her is these rules could inhibit the organic way the strip has evolved. She fears that municipal intervention will it make difficult for the current establishments to grow and near impossible for new ones to survive.
“If I had to open under these new rules I’d be bankrupt,” she said.
It’s really too bad the city hasn’t found ways to create useful regulations that encourage nightlife while also protecting the interests of neighbours who want some quiet. The regulations passed on Ossington (like the ones passed on College before, and the ones that will likely be passed on West Queen West very soon), create unnecessary restrictions on businesses, while failing to actually address most of the concerns that neighbours have.
A big part of the reason for this is that the laws fail to distinguish between bars and restaurants. When neighbours express concern that there are too many bars in an area, the city turns around and issues regulations that apply to all restaurants as well as bars. Many cities have rules the regulate bars and restaurants differently (as would seem reasonable), but Toronto doesn’t.
Regulating bars doesn’t mean turning a place into a quiet suburb. Cities like New York, L.A., Montreal, Chicago, Berlin, and London all have rules meant to prevent areas for being overconcentrated with bars. Toronto has no such rules – instead we have a system of band-aid local bylaws that restrict restaurant growth, while still allowing neighbourhoods to turn into bar monocultures.
A link on how bar saturation in handles in other cities: http://www.tinyurl.com/barsaturation
A link with an FAQ expressing neighbours’ viewpoin in West Queen West: http://tinyurl.com/QBRAFAQ