By Gregory Furgala
Toronto City Council voted last week to lift a restriction it placed on the concentration of restaurants allowed in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, opening the door for a second restaurant boom in the West End neighbourhood.
In 2013, following a year-long study of the neighbourhood and moratorium on new restaurants there, City Council imposed a 25 per cent “concentration provision” that limited restaurants to a quarter of the total properties on Queen Street West between Dufferin Street and Roncesvalles Avenue. The provision was imposed in the wake of a sharp influx of restaurants that residents say caused excessive noise and disturbed the mixed-use quality of the neighbourhood. A new study, submitted to the city on April 16, recommended lifting the 25 per cent cap.
Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association, a provincial hospitality industry lobby, is satisfied with the result.
“We feel that putting a moratorium of any type of business stops growth and hurts the economy,” says Elenis. Arguing that the concentration provision was too broad, Elenis says, “There are various ways and more tools” to regulate restaurants.
“We’re not surprised it was lifted.”
Other restrictions, including limiting restaurants to 200 square metres of floor space, limiting their operation to the ground floor, prohibitions against backyard and rooftop patios and a limit to the size of stage and gambling areas will remain in place.
Despite Parkdale’s reputation for trendy restaurants, the report found that the net number of restaurants actually declined from 71 to 64 since 2013, or from 23 to 21 per cent of the total properties in the area. The study concluded that the concentration provision likely curtailed the immediate influx of new establishments, but market forces, including increases in land value and commercial rent, a decrease in the vacancy rate, changes in retail functionality along main corridors and new trends in the restaurant industry likely caused the long-term decline of restaurants there.
Ric Amis, secretary of the Parkdale Residents’ Association, thinks the provision wasn’t properly tested because of those market conditions, and that it shouldn’t have been lifted as a result.
“They weren’t capable of answering whether that 25 per cent saturation provision fulfilled what it was supposed to,” says Amis.
Amis says he wants a nightlife, but when the restaurants and bars close, the crowd spills out onto surrounding residential streets. He and other residents called the excessive noise their “sleep tax.”
“I’m okay with one noisy night,” says Amis. “But two, three nights? We have to work.”
Before the provision, “The sleep tax was getting too expensive,” says Amis.
Now Amis is worried that those problems will return. He cites other restaurant-heavy streets in Toronto, like nearby Ossington Avenue, where Council also voted to limit restaurant size and space, but whose residents continued to deal with the same problems he says plagued Parkdale. The provision, he says, was the only difference.
“As we start to get a lot of complaints from residents about nighttime activities,” says Amis, “we’ll know the issue has returned, and I can guarantee you it will.”
For his part, Elenis is optimistic that removing the provision will change the neighbourhood for the better, and that restaurants can create hubs that help support the community and other local businesses as well.
“When you look at Parkdale before the restaurants came in,” says Elenis, “it was a very unsafe area. Restaurants came and cleaned it up. They improved the place.”
The city planner will conduct another study of the area in 2023. Until then, Amis’s plan is simple.