It is hard for me to believe that it was 31 years ago when I introduced the toughest legislation in the province regarding restaurants.
If you really want to know why the legislation was necessary, you need only read Beach Metro News articles from 1985 to understand. The Beach had become very popular – and therefore very profitable – to land owners and developers. Much like today.
Several historically significant buildings were torn down, a number of beautiful large oaks that lined Queen Street had been cut down, and block after block seemed to be targeted for re-development. Rumour had it that a McDonald’s drive-through and at least one large bar chain wanted to open in our part of Queen Street East.
Restaurants capable of paying higher rent were driving out local, smaller retail operators like the former Crosswalk Variety store and others.
As a life-long Beach resident, I did not need to ask what people wanted as much as know what they did not want.
After a few tough meetings it was clear that we all shared the same vision. We wanted our neighborhood to be more like Niagara-on-the-Lake than Queen Street West.
For that reason I fought for a series of new legislative rules, known then as the ‘Queen Street bylaws,’ not just a restaurant bylaw. These new rules included:
A design study to guide new development to have the charm and ambiance of a historic town and to avoid modern, square box buildings that we were seeing built.
A height restriction of four storeys with the fourth floor stepped back. This neighbourhood has resisted high rises from the beginning, because we did not want to change the character of the neighbourhood.
A limit on the size of restaurants as well as a minimum parking requirement for restaurants was done to stop big chains and protect the wider retail variety we were losing to bars and coffee shops.
Why limit the number of restaurants? Because restaurants could pay more rent and, as I have pointed out, they were driving other retailers out.
Over the years, restaurants have come and gone – Summers, The Palm, The Balmy Arms, Karas, Pepino’s-on-the-Beach, Spiaggia, Licks, Lido’s – the list goes on and on. I liked them all and frequented them often, but if you asked those former owners, they would tell you how local residents did not support them.
Some things have changed and some have not. I think it very prudent that our councillor, the Business Improvement Area and local residents review the bylaw and learn from its successes and failures.
Some in an article in the April 5 issue [Queen Street restaurant rules get first look in possible review] appeared to lay some blame on the restaurant bylaw for the closed storefronts we see today.
I am a consumer and not a retail expert but if you want to know my opinion on what drives out small business on Queen Street, there are three things:
A lack of parking and a ridiculous enforcement regime that borders on absurd!
Higher rents because properties have been granted more density and more height – therefore more value, and higher taxes, leading to higher rents.
A lack of general support from people who live in the Beach.
I can say this because I still spend considerable time on Queen and, yes, Kingston Road too. My family and I love the variety and quality the Beach has to offer. But I am not part of the majority. Most Beach business owners will tell you today that not enough local residents shop locally.
Good luck, and proceed cautiously on your review. Remember, for every action there is a reaction.
Tom Jakobek is a project management consultant and former Ward 32 councillor.