Eleven restaurants have popped up between Brock and Dufferin since 2008. Is that too many?
On Parkdale's Queen West strip, bars and bistros have been eating up real estate faster than a hungry hipster can scarf a pulled pork taco. The plethora of places to dine and drink has been a boon for the area, turning it into an internationally known destination for rave-reviewed cuisine.
But what's it like to actually live there? Across from the Cadillac Lounge, on the south side of Queen west of Dufferin, smack in the middle of the nightlife takeover, Radek Swiderski stands on the stoop of his walk-up apartment building and expresses a popular view.
It's a "clusterfuck filled with idiots and fuckheads all fucking weekend," he says, describing the scene outside his front door most Friday and Saturday nights.
In the last five years, drinking spots and eateries have popped up like mushrooms on the 300-metre stretch between Dufferin and Brock; it now has 19 restaurants, 15 of which are licensed and 11 of which have opened since 2008.
But the city's quest for balance between hopping nightlife and helpful greengrocer could soon see Parkdale's Queen West become the testing ground for a strategy never before used in Toronto - a cap on bars and restaurants so they make up no more than 25 per cent of the street's storefronts.
The proposal is recommended by a planning study released last week and comes on the heels of a moratorium, imposed last fall and still in effect, on new restaurants and bars on Queen between Dufferin and Roncesvalles. The plan would divide the street into four zones and prescribe the 25 per cent limit for each. The saturation of bars and restaurants in the smallest zone - from Brock to Dufferin - has already reached 33 per cent, and in another - Sorauren to Lansdowne - it's hit the 25 per cent ceiling. These existing establishments would be grandfathered in and allowed to remain open, but there is still some room to grow in the other two zones, where saturation is now at about 20 per cent.
The study also recommends limiting the floor size of establishments to 200 square metres and prohibiting expansion onto second storeys. The plan will be debated by Toronto and East York Community Council on Tuesday, June 18, and has yet to be approved by council.
Gord Perks, the local councillor who backed the bar ban last year, believes the 25 per cent cap would prevent profitable bars from driving up rents and pushing out businesses catering to Parkdale's existing residents, many of whom are new immigrants, psychiatric survivors or members of other vulnerable groups. But he also believes similar limits could be used to prevent an unwanted proliferation of bars across the whole downtown. "I think this is an elegant solution to a problem that neighbourhoods all over Toronto have been struggling with for a long time," he says. "It's a breakthrough because it's the first time we've tackled the issue of concentration head on."
The city has grappled with runaway bar booms before, but the bureaucracy has sometimes been a step behind the pace of development, to the detriment of both residents and business owners. In 2009, restaurateurs complained of being blindsided by a moratorium on new establishments on Ossington, and Parkdale's bar ban has prompted a similar angry reaction.
Other jurisdictions take a more proactive approach to controlling bar expansion. In New York City, the state's "500-foot rule" dictates that anyone applying for a liquor licence within 500 feet of three or more similar establishments has to prove the application is in the public interest or else be turned down.
Perks believes the 25 per cent rule could provide Toronto with as effective a template.
But Anna Bartula, executive director of the Parkdale Village Business Improvement Association, isn't sure it will even work locally. She says her members would welcome clearer rules around bars and restaurants, instead of the moratorium that caught many business owners off guard, but she's not convinced 25 per cent is an appropriate target.
"Is it 20 per cent? Is it 30 per cent? I don't know if anyone can really tell us what is actually going to work in Parkdale Village," Bartula says.
Gregg Lintern, director of community planning for the Toronto and East York district, concedes that the 25 per cent rule is less than perfect. One major sticking point is that the province, not the city, grants liquor licences. The city thus has no way of differentiating between establishments with and without licences, so the cap would prohibit unlicensed restaurants as well as rowdy bars.
Lintern stresses that the cap, which would be reassessed after three years, was designed to address specific problems in Parkdale, and may not be suited to other parts of town.
"We're trying to be careful about this approach. I wouldn't say it is the type of tool we need to use on a widespread basis," he says. "It's more specific to the situation here, and we have to evaluate it and see how well it works."
Mike Layton is one councillor who will be keeping a close watch on the experiment. New bars and restaurants are popping up in his Trinity-Spadina ward at a brisk pace, and he thinks setting a limit on them might be necessary at some point. "In some of these neighbourhoods [where] we're starting to lose that diversity, I think folks may want us to explore it," he says.
"Certainly on Bloor and Dundas we've got these growing and strengthening culinary scenes starting to move in. I don't think it's quite got to the point where they're forcing out other uses, but we'll certainly keep an eye on that."
Even if the cap is implemented, of course, nothing can turn back the clock in Parkdale. Residents of the building across from the Cadillac are likely stuck with the weekly migration of thirsty visitors from all over town who bring with them traffic and noise and, after closing time, leave behind streets stained with vomit, urine and even feces.
"This is a community that's coming back to life right now," says Swiderski, "and instead of a bar we could do with a fruit market."