Ossington residents split on licensing ban

Ossington residents split on licensing ban

Forget the war on the car—a growing contingent of west-end residents is gearing up for a war on the bar.

On Tuesday, city council voted in favour of a one-year moratorium on permits for new restaurants and bars on Ossington Avenue between Queen and Dundas Streets. The bylaw, put forward by councillor Joe Pantalone, is intended to buy time while the city decides whether controls are needed to limit the number and size of the businesses on the burgeoning nightlife strip.

Last night, the drama escalated. A community meeting held in a sweaty, packed basement room at St. Christopher House at Dundas and Ossington turned into a bile-spewing free-for-all as residents and business owners faced off over the moratorium.

“We don’t need more bars,” said one resident. “We don’t even have a fruit store or a place to get groceries on the street!” To which a prospective entrepreneur grumbled, “I don’t pay the rent sellin’ fuckin’ tomatoes.”

Most residents agreed that controls are needed, but they’re split on Pantalone’s ban. Reducing noise is a major concern, but the bylaw also means that bake shops and cafés are verboten, much to the consternation of locals who want to see more daytime business.

Laura Di Marcello had planned to open a café and adjoining retail store on the strip. “Bars and cafés are not the same thing,” she says. “A café would close early, the patio wouldn’t even be loud, and it may not even be serving alcohol.”

Pol Cristo-Williams, co-owner of Sweaty Betty’s and a neighbourhood resident, says the ban is “like trying to fix a bicycle with an axe. It’s the wrong tool.” In the meantime, Cristo-Williams is hoping the controversy doesn’t hold up his application for a patio licence at his slightly larger Dundas Street bar, the Red Light, which opened last fall, even though it lies outside the affected area.

For all the furor on Ossington, it’s not the only battleground. Residents of Ward 18 are pressuring councillor Adam Giambrone to act upon the increase in bars on Queen Street West from Dovercourt to Gladstone. But Giambrone is hesitant to follow Pantalone’s lead with a moratorium, which he says is a measure of last resort. Instead, he’ll launch a study that will decide what, if anything, should be done to limit bars and restaurants on the strip in question. One option up for debate is adopting something akin to New York State’s “500-foot rule,” which prohibits more than three bars from opening within 500 feet of one another. (The law is often successfully appealed in busy districts, especially in New York City.) Giambrone’s study is to be completed and presented to council by early fall.