Parkdale's bar scene has been put on pause.
Under an interim control bylaw that was passed quietly by city council Wednesday, new bars and restaurants will be prohibited from opening on the main drag of the tough but trendsetting downtown village for a period of one-year, effective immediately.
The measure, sponsored by local councillor Gord Perks, applies to Queen Street West between Dufferin and Roncesvalles. Not only are new establishments barred, but existing ones are prohibited from expanding onto a second floor, and, unless they've already secured the legal right to do so, opening backyard or rooftop patios.
A similar - and very controversial - ban was imposed on the burgeoning Ossington strip in 2009.
Perks says the surprise freeze was necessary because new nightspots are opening up at such a rate that they're beginning to push out local businesses that serve the day-to-day the life of the community. The Queen West strip is flanked by residential streets, many of them home to recent immigrants, low-income families, and psychiatric survivors.
"I'm watching what was a neighbourhood street turning into an entertainment district," says Perks of the historically marginalized area that has become fashionable among young urban Torontonians in recent years.
"I'm getting a liquor license application coming into that stretch every other week...So we really needed to lower the temperature, protect what's there before it's gone."
A planning study aimed at mitigating the impact of rapid development in the area was initiated last June, but Perks says it's not moving fast enough. The freeze would be lifted if the study were concluded before one-year period is up.
Perks, who is fiercely protective of the hardscrabble neighbourhood west of the city core, believes that not only would a continued influx of bars and restaurants attract rowdy late-night crowds, it would deaden the area during the daytime hours, and push property values so high that they would drive out local businesses.
He says that process has already begun. A hardware store and optician on Queen West recently closed up shop.
Anna Bartula of the Parkdale Village Business Improvement Area says the neighbourhood could benefit from a cooling off period, but she's concerned about how the interim bylaw will affect businesses with expansion applications already in the works.
"This certainly does impact some of our members who have permits that are pending," Bartula says. "We are currently trying to speak to someone at [the city], trying to find out who will be impacted. Some may go through, some may be suspended."
With the ban passing without comment at City Hall, many bar operators on the street are surprised to learn of the moratorium.
Behind the bar at the Yukon at Queen and Sorauren Thursday, manager Katy McLean said she'd never heard of the new bylaw.
McLean predicts the freeze will adversely impact the Yukon, which is blocks from the dense cluster of nightspots closer to Dufferin and was surrounded by vacant storefronts when it opened six months ago. Since then, a donut shop and gallery have moved onto the block, and McLean was hoping for more bars to open up nearby to attract traffic to the area.
McLean also worries the bylaw could mean the bar might not be able to open up a patio on its back lot, something that she says would boost its summer sales.
"It's hard from a business point of view to not even be allowed to apply for that," she says.
She argues it's unfair for the city to enact such a sweeping measure without letting existing establishments know about it.
"We weren't even notified. There wasn't even a memo or anything that was put in the mailbox," she said.
According to Perks, the freeze had to be enacted swiftly in order to avoid unduly influencing property values.
The councillor says he's not against bars, but argues that unless there's a proper mix of retail, residential, and entertainment uses, the neighbourhood will suffer.
"The thing about living in an urban area is we rub shoulders with each other, and our plans have to take into account what our neighbours need from us," he says. "Parkdale has drifted out of balance, and we need to restore that balance so that the whole neighbourhood wins."