For the past year applications to expand and open bars and restaurants on the Queen West stretch in Parkdale have been flooding in fast and furious.
Parkdale-High Park councillor Gord Perks said he has been averaging two applications a week for the past year. Spurred by concerns the onset of bars and restaurants would forever alter the character and livability of the street and the neighbourhood, Perks on Oct. 26 introduced, and council approved, an Interim Control By-law to prohibit new restaurants and second floor expansions on Queen Street West between Roncesvalles Avenue and Dufferin Street.
“I have been concerned about this since 2009 when I started appealing every liquor license application,” Perks said, adding community concerns of noise, vandalism, garbage and congestion problems had also increased.
“One of the things that happens when you have this many restaurants coming in is it pushes up the retail prices for commercial leases, so they are pushing out other uses,” Perks said. “I don’t want to have that stretch of Queen Street turned into an entertainment district that is dead during the day, dead Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and is only busy three evenings a week.”
That kind of scenario drives out the services that make neighbourhoods work.
Perks explained the interim bylaw does not stop an establishment from applying for a liquor license, but instead it is meant to allow the city planning department the opportunity to study and come up with a plan to help alleviate the concerns related to land use issues.
This bylaw comes after a bar and restaurant study of the area was initiated in June 2011. The purpose of the study was to determine if any additional zoning controls could be introduced to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the high concentration of restaurants and bars in the study area. Planning staff has been researching similar planning/zoning concerns and solutions to help alleviate concerns.
But the study was going too slowly, in part because the city planning department doesn’t have the resources, Perks said.
“We couldn’t get it going much faster because it isn’t like we have spare planners around here waiting for stuff to do,” Perks said.
The area needed a cooling off period in order to complete the planning study.
Currently, one third of the storefronts are restaurants or bars, and Perks said that strikes him as out of balance.
“We have over 4,000 licensed seats in that stretch for serving alcohol,” Perks said.
This interim bylaw will mean different things for different establishments along the strip, Perks said.
“What it prevents you from is coming in as a new restaurant or bar where there isn’t one, or expanding your bar or restaurant,” Perks explained. “If you had applied for a building permit and you are pretty much complete, all but the rubber stamp, then you are okay.”
It is a freeze until the study is completed or for one year, whichever comes first. However, should the study not be completed in one year it is renewable for a second year pending council approval.
Anna Bartula, the executive director of the Parkdale Village Business Improvement Area, said the responses she has heard from businesses and residents she has spoken to have been mixed.
“Typically the businesses that are bars and restaurants are upset and want to see more places like that open up in the community,” Bartula said. “I am getting feedback as well from people who understand as well because maybe they would like to see a butcher or a florist and not blocks and blocks of bars.”
She has been speaking to the businesses that may be impacted and trying to assist them to get a clear grasp on how they are affected.
There are about five or six establishments in the midst of a process that might be impacted, Bartula said.
A community meeting regarding the study is scheduled for Nov. 26 in the auditorium at 20 West Lodge Ave. from 7 to 9 p.m.
Perks said, at the meeting, he is hoping to hear if they are concerned about the concentration of bars and restaurants and what the community wants to see in terms of business along Queen West.
“I want some innovative ideas here because I think it would be tragic if we lost Queen Street as a main street for the Parkdale neighourhood,” Perks said.