A different point of view – Point/Counterpoint

Footloose

pointcounterpointAs those who read this blog know, I don’t support the new regulations that Joe Pantalone is in the midst of putting in place. And, until this weekend, and hearing a few voices in the first neighbourhood hearing which I wrote about here, I had only met a limited few – generally not homeowners – who agreed with the city councilor.

This included a number of talks with neighbours, random discussions at the great I Deal Coffee, and a full night of meeting about 50 people at the BD Travelling dinner (and this is worth a post in itself, which I haven’t got to yet).

This past weekend I was interviewed by a Toronto star reporter who was putting together an article on the issue which was published on Saturday. He mentioned that he was having trouble finding people also, and I would have directed him to the right people, if I knew they existed. Out of that article emerged a commenter, who also got a response published in the paper on Wednesday.

As an always cooperative neighbour willing to discuss issues and argue the merits of one side or the other, I reached out with an offer of a local coffee to discuss the issue with the U of T Philosophy professor. My offer was rebuked, however she did provide a well reasoned argument (which I disagree with) on why Joe should strangle entrepreneurship in the neighbourhood (ya, I’m biased, I know) . It’s my believe that her arguments are not based on economic facts, because, like a good philosopher, you can’t let facts get in the way of a good argument. ( and full disclosure – I have a BA in philosophy)

Below I’ve included the key points of the thread. Hopefully I haven’t left out any relevant details of the exchange:

My offer for discussion:

I wanted to introduce myself because I had seen your posts in the Star articles about our neighbourhood, and, while we’re both neighbourhood residents we obviously have different views of the current change to the neighbourhood.

I hadn’t met you, and haven’t yet met anyone yet in the neighbourhood who supports Mr. Pantalone’s plans, it was good to finally find out that there was, in fact, another perspective on this. When I talked to the Toronto Star reporter he said he’d been scouring for days trying to find someone like you.

I thought it might be helpful to grab a coffee in our neighbourhood and chat about the different perspectives. I have been talking quite a bit to the owners of some of the places on Ossington and they have, like me, been trying to reach out to talk to the people who are in favour of the current city council plans to try and find some good common ground.

I thought I’d reach out myself, as a resident, and see whether we can meet for coffee and I can share my perspective, listen to yours, and see whether there’s more common ground in this, which I feel there is.

The rebuke, and philosophical argument:4046078

Thanks for contacting me.  Given what you say below, you must not have been at the two Community meetings discussing the moratorium and the proposed amendments.  At each meeting, it was obvious that most residents were in favor of imposing size restrictions.  Nearly all residents voicing opposition were restaurant owners or business property owners.  And if the reporters were interested in finding supportive residents, a logical place to start would have been to look at the many letters of support for the amendments that were sent to the Planning board and to the Toronto-North York Community council.

Of course, no one is saying that the amendments are perfect.  Obviously, it would be better if the city by-laws distinguished bars from restaurants.  As I mentioned at the last Community meeting, it would also be nice to be able to keep back and side patios, assuming there were some way of keeping noise down after hours; but as Pantalone pointed out, there isn’t really any way to do this.

Given the overriding need to prevent the entertainment-districting of our neighborhood, Pantalone and the planner did the best they could.

As for meeting and finding “common ground” between what the bar owners (or sympathetic businesspersons like yourself) want and what other residents want… I’m open to this in principle, but what is supposed to be the point, exactly?  So far as I can tell, the facts of the case are this:

—It’s clearly true that it is of the first importance to prevent Ossington’s large spaces from being turned into fake “restaurants” that operate as nightclubs, for all the obvious reasons.
—It’s clearly true that the only feasible way to do this is to impose size restrictions as per the by-law amendments.
—It’s clearly true that the size restriction won’t restrict growth, as is evidenced both by the fact that the vast majority of “restaurants” currently on Ossington are below the size limit, and also by the fact that size restrictions in other areas of the city have not led to downturn, and on the contrary those areas are thriving.

So, really, what’s to discuss?  I don’t mean to disregard your opinion, I’m just curious.  Which of the previous clearly true claims do you reject?

I thought I’d present the counter arguments – economic facts, supported, of course, by the CRFA and ORMHA:footloose

I was at the post-mortum meeting that Joe held at the community centre, and spoke there. What was interesting is that I, and other locals I know, walked away with a vastly different impression of the tone of the meeting. Apart from some comments about how the city should be building places to buy tomatoes (and I’m assuming you don’t lean that far to the left), my sense of the meeting was that there was more annoyance about the lack of consultation. There was, I’d admit, some discussion about bars and the night life.

But, I suppose that it’s a matter of perspective.

The second meeting I couldn’t attend as I was travelling on business, however I have written to Joe Pantalone.

In terms of your points below, one of the premises that seems to be missing in your very well reasoned arguments is that in order for a fine dining restaurant to be viable, they really need to be greater than 2000 square feet. As a past restauranteur, I can definitely confirm this. Union, Paramour, Delux and even Libretto are probably money losing restaurants, however, if they can expand, even minimally, they will become more viable. They had set themselves up for growth, but will now be limited. As an example of this you’ll notice that no chain restaurant (Swiss Chalet, MileStones, The Keg) will ever be in a location this small. I was very excited to have a restaurant like Bohmer, a restaurant that has already has had to change their business model to become more of a ‘bar’ instead of a restaurant in order to comply. We might have had something like Scaramouche or Auberge in our neighbourhood, instead it looks more like it’s going to become a small bar, with a fine food store attached. This is the result of the particular regulations. Unfortunately that’s just the economics of restaurants.

Another part of the economics of restaurants is that small bars just don’t survive. When real estate prices rise, they won’t be able to afford the rents. I can guarantee you that the Crooked Star will be forced to move or close when their lease is up if the current growth in nice high-end restaurants on the street continues because they won’t be able to afford their lease.

In terms of other areas of the city and their growth, I keep in contact with a few of my old restaurant owner friends, including Susur Lee,  from my past, past life in the business. They tell me the locations that they have no interest in going to because of the size restrictions. College is off anyones list. Queen East is off anyones list. Those are areas that these size restrictions exists. It’s a purely economic argument.

So, I’d agree with you that there are some bars on the street that have issues. But current law actually covers all of this. In almost all the city there are very severe limitations on the use of space. You can’t just open a club anywhere in the city, and especially on Ossington. The fact that some restaurants are non-compliant is simply an enforcement issue. And the city has some strong tools at their disposal. My old restaurant was in a very sensitive and high-end residential neighbourhood. I used to have neighbours who would complain when we dropped a bottle in the blue bin at 9pm at night. And I got fined heavily for really silly little things (like bottles dropped in blue bins making too much noise at 9pm), until I finally met with the people who were sending the inspectors and we came to some reasonable alternatives.

I’m excited to have the new, high-end restaurants in my new neighbourhood, and hope for less of places like The Garrison which recently opened on Dundas. I’ve found both the bar owners as well as the restaurant owners – as well as the gallery, bookstore, cafe, laundromat, salon, and kitchen stores – really wanting to work and discuss with local residents how to make the neighbourhood a great place. They’d really like a place as described by many of the people on both sides of this – where people end up congregating on the street.

By imposing these restrictions, it creates an economic situation where we’ll end up with more of the same, and not what we both want.

Another philosophical response:

As per my previous message, I claim that the answer is yes, on the following grounds:

1. It’s clearly true that it is of the first importance to prevent Ossington’s large spaces from being turned into fake “restaurants” that operate as nightclubs, for all the obvious reasons.
2. It’s clearly true that the only feasible way to do this is to impose size restrictions as per the by-law amendments.
3. It’s clearly true that the size restriction won’t restrict growth, as is evidenced both by the fact that the vast majority of “restaurants” currently on Ossington are below the size limit, and also by the fact that size restrictions in other areas of the city have not led to downturn, and on the contrary those areas are thriving.

As I understand your response below, you think that the second and third claims can be challenged, and that the reasons for resisting the third claim are reasons to oppose the amendments (in particular, the size restriction).

Let’s start with your reasons for challenging (3):

In terms of your points [above], one of the premises that seems to be missing in your very well reasoned arguments is that in order for a fine dining restaurant to be viable, they really need to be greater than 2000 square feet. As a past restauranteur, I can definitely confirm this. Union, Paramour, Delux and even Libretto are probably money losing restaurants, however, if they can expand, even minimally, they will become more viable. They had set themselves up for growth, but will now be limited. As an example of this you’ll notice that no chain restaurant (Swiss Chalet, MileStones, The Keg) will ever be in a location this small. I was very excited to have a restaurant like Bohmer, a restaurant that has already has had to change their business model to become more of a ‘bar’ instead of a restaurant in order to comply. We might have had something like Scaramouche or Auberge in our neighbourhood, instead it looks more like it’s going to become a small bar, with a fine food store attached. This is the result of the particular regulations. Unfortunately that’s just the economics of restaurants.

Another part of the economics of restaurants is that small bars just don’t survive. When real estate prices rise, they won’t be able to afford the rents. I can guarantee you that the Crooked Star will be forced to move or close when their lease is up if the current growth in nice high-end restaurants on the street continues because they won’t be able to afford their lease.

In terms of other areas of the city and their growth, I keep in contact with a few of my old restaurant owner friends, including Susur Lee,  from my past, past life in the business. They tell me the locations that they have no interest in going to because of the size restrictions. College is off anyones list. Queen East is off anyones list. Those are areas that these size restrictions exists. It’s a purely economic argument.

OK, let’s assess the claims here.

—You claim that “in order for a fine dining restaurant to be viable, they really need to be greater than 2000 square feet”.  That’s clearly false.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of viable fine dining restaurants in downtown Toronto under 175 square meters, including, so it seems, all or most of the fine dining restaurants on Ossington (they’re still in business, aren’t they?).  That there has been a “gold rush” on opening restaurants on Ossington, nearly all of which are under the new size restriction, further undermines your claim: obviously, these restauranteurs expect their businesses to be viable.

—In support of your previous claim, you observe that chain restaurants need larger spaces.  That’s besides the point: unlike fine dining restaurants, cheap chain restaurants need to seat more people to make a profit.  Moreover, you seem here to be pointing to an unexpected benefit of the new size restriction (it’ll keep chain restaurants out).

—You claim that various fine dining restaurants on Ossington had “set themselves up for growth, but will now be limited”.  That’s implausible.  Given that these restaurants occupy individual leased spaces, how were they planning to expand?

—You claim that the size restrictions may require restaurants to change their business model.  Perhaps so, but change is not elimination.  We won’t get large restaurants on Ossington: so be it (I prefer more intimate restaurants, anyway).  Again, your claim that the “economics” of restaurants somehow requires large square footage just doesn’t stand up to the facts.

—You claim that “[a]nother part of the economics of restaurants is that small bars just don’t survive. When real estate prices rise, they won’t be able to afford the rents. I can guarantee you that the Crooked Star will be forced to move or close when their lease is up if the current growth in nice high-end restaurants on the street continues…”  I’m confused.  I thought you liked high-end restaurants and were concerned that the size restrictions were going to somehow prevent them from being viable.  Here you say that if we get more high-end restaurants then the small bars will have to close.  With or without the size restrictions, there are going to be more high-end restaurants on Ossington.  So I don’t see how the point about small bars bears on the size restriction issue.

— Is the previous claim about small bars intended to suggest that the size restriction will raise rents?  That seems false.  On the contrary, if you are right that some restauranteurs don’t want to open restaurants in areas with size restrictions, then there will be somewhat less demand for restaurant space on Ossington, and rents will go down.  Of course, lots of restauranteurs will still be happy to open restaurants on Ossington, so with size restrictions in place we avoid entertainment-districtization, get more nice restaurants, the rents go down, and the small bars stay open.  Yay!

So far, then, you haven’t given any good reason to reject claim (3).

Next, let’s consider what you have to say concerning (2), according to which “It’s clearly true that the only feasible way to [prevent Ossington’s large spaces from being turned into fake “restaurants” operating as nightclubs]  is to impose size restrictions as per the by-law amendments.”

So, I’d agree with you that there are some bars on the street that have issues. But current law actually covers all of this. In almost all the city there are very severe limitations on the use of space. You can’t just open a club anywhere in the city, and especially on Ossington. The fact that some restaurants are non-compliant is simply an enforcement issue. And the city has some strong tools at their disposal. My old restaurant was in a very sensitive and high-end residential neighbourhood. I used to have neighbours who would complain when we dropped a bottle in the blue bin at 9pm at night. And I got fined heavily for really silly little things (like bottles dropped in blue bins making too much noise at 9pm), until I finally met with the people who were sending the inspectors and we came to some reasonable alternatives.

Here you grant that there is already a problem on Ossington with restaurants operating as nightclubs, even though nearly all our restaurants are below the size restriction.  As a matter of fact the by-laws forbidding nightclubs are not being enforced.

One important question here is: why aren’t the by-laws enforced?  I don’t know the answer to this question.  Perhaps the problem is lack of resources—maybe the city doesn’t have the “strong tools” for enforcement that it once had.  Another reason may have to do with an admirable desire on the part of police and other authorities to try to “live and let live”, insofar as possible.  I do prefer that police err on the side of non-interference.

Still, the undeniable fact remains: for whatever reason, the by-laws are not being enforced: restaurants on Ossington are operating as nightclubs, with all the associated disruptions.  Now suppose, as seems likely, that the by-laws continue not to be enforced.  Now envision a 2000 or more square foot “restaurant” operating as a nightclub on Ossington.  Now we’re talking serious degradation of our neighborhood environment.  Sucks, right?

Given that enforcement is not working, for whatever reason, my claim stands: the only feasible way to prevent Ossington’s large spaces from being turned into fake “restaurants” operating as nightclubs is to impose the size restriction.

So far, then, you haven’t given any good reason to reject claim (2).

So far, then, all my claims stand and anyone who wants to prevent entertainment-districtization of Ossington does well to support the amendments.

It may be worthwhile to offer full disclosure, apart from what readers of this blog already know about me. I am an entrepreneur in the web services/web advertising business running a site called HomeStars. In a past career I owned a restaurant in a well off neighbourhood, which I sold because I couldn’t grow due to space and regulatory limitations. In the past few months I have got to know some of the restaurant owners on the street, but own no property on Ossington apart from a house on a nearby street, nor do I have any interest in any of the businesses there, apart from my own selfish interest in having nice food, live music, and comfortable cafes near my house. I will disclose that Pol, from Sweaty Betty’s has bought me a couple of beers while discussing the issues (for which I’m very grateful!).

Feel free to comment in the comments section on the arguments above. I’ll post them. If there are other homeowners who agree with Mr. Pantalone’s restrictions, go ahead and post. Continue the argument below!

  • Brians

    After posting this it got me thinking that the real difference of opinion is whether you believe the city can enforce current bylaws, or whether they have to impose more. Wouldn’t it come down to that?

  • Brians

    After posting this it got me thinking that the real difference of opinion is whether you believe the city can enforce current bylaws, or whether they have to impose more. Wouldn’t it come down to that?

  • alex

    i recently realized the only places on college street that have survived past 3-5 yrs are the ones w/patios
    I’ve lived here for close to 16 years and seen dozens open & close.
    If the city actually did
    any
    due diligence they would realize these types of restrictions on top of Toronto Ontario being one of the worst places to start a hospitality business are a 1 way ticket to bankruptcy
    The City might do well if they would eat some humble pie
    but they won’t because they are too busy navel gazing.

    Our local city officials just let Central tech high schools Olympic size swimming pool close due to lack of funds yet they have endless resources to descend on Ossington

    I love when cocktail communists window dress their smartly worded arguments as fact/truth.

  • alex

    i recently realized the only places on college street that have survived past 3-5 yrs are the ones w/patios
    I’ve lived here for close to 16 years and seen dozens open & close.
    If the city actually did
    any
    due diligence they would realize these types of restrictions on top of Toronto Ontario being one of the worst places to start a hospitality business are a 1 way ticket to bankruptcy
    The City might do well if they would eat some humble pie
    but they won’t because they are too busy navel gazing.

    Our local city officials just let Central tech high schools Olympic size swimming pool close due to lack of funds yet they have endless resources to descend on Ossington

    I love when cocktail communists window dress their smartly worded arguments as fact/truth.

  • Brians

    One of the points you make is good, and worth clearing up. Our philosophy prof points out that Queen East is doing well, when in fact it’s not.
    A number of my friends have moved into that neighbourhood, thinking it’ll be the next up-and-coming neighbourhood in the city. Leslieville has been up-and-coming for about 15 years, because you basically can’t open any decent sized restaurant on the strip out there. Thus it ends up full of crappy little shops (although a few smaller thigns are starting to emerge, but not like around here)

  • Brians

    One of the points you make is good, and worth clearing up. Our philosophy prof points out that Queen East is doing well, when in fact it’s not.
    A number of my friends have moved into that neighbourhood, thinking it’ll be the next up-and-coming neighbourhood in the city. Leslieville has been up-and-coming for about 15 years, because you basically can’t open any decent sized restaurant on the strip out there. Thus it ends up full of crappy little shops (although a few smaller thigns are starting to emerge, but not like around here)

  • John

    The biggest problem with the bylaw is its inability to distinguish restaurants from bars. As the staff report notes, many residents said that their problem was not with proper restaurants per se, but with those “restaurants” that operate more like a bar, serving some food but mainly catering to late-night drinking customers. But rather than seek precise definitions of a restaurant, lounge or bar, the planner inexplicably concludes that it is more useful to regulate ALL restaurants as if they were bars, even unlicensed cafes, bakeries and delis. This makes no sense at all. This conclusion ignores the wishes of many bylaw proponents who welcome such restaurants, and wish only to tighten controls on late night drinking establishments.

    By regulating all restaurants as if they were bars, the City will ensure an outcome that no one wants. The fact is, it is much easier to operate a bar than a restaurant, in terms of available space. In order to serve a plate of food, a restaurant needs a food storage area, kitchen space, a holding area, a server and a place to sit and eat. But a bar can be operated profitably with a much smaller footprint and fewer staffers. Restricting space may make it somewhat more difficult to operate a bar, but it will make it much more difficult comparatively to operate a restaurant proper whose primary focus is food service. This bylaw may slow growth, but it has ensured that this future growth disproportionately features bars, and not restaurants. This is exactly the opposite of the outcome sought by proponents of the bylaw.

    By favoring bars over restaurants, the bylaw also favors nighttime businesses over daytime businesses. Daytime foot traffic is essential to creating a vibrant mix of businesses, including fruit stands, mixed retail and other businesses. Cafes tend to lead the way here, since more than most businesses, they attract local residents on a regular basis. But this bylaw does not even distinguish between a licensed establishment and an unlicensed coffee shop or a bakery, whose presence along Ossington appears to be universally desired. This bylaw makes it far less likely that Ossington will achieve a healthy mix of daytime-related businesses.
    Joe Pantalone was warned over ten years ago that noisy new lounges on College Street were displacing longstanding fruit stands and retailers. He knew then that new bylaw definitions were needed to properly distinguish bars/lounges from restaurants in order to achieve some reasonable regulatory control. He did nothing. And then when it was too late, he imposed a bylaw that has had little effect. If anything, College Street is even more dominated by alcohol-serving night-time businesses than it was before the College bylaw. Fortunately, College is a mature commercial street, and the underlying economics of the area allow it to maintain much of its healthy commercial mix, no thanks to Joe Pantalone. But Ossington is still in transition, and if it is to avoid becoming a booze-driven theme park for douchebags, people will need to get much smarter about how they encourage healthy change and a diversity of desirable businesses. That will mean looking beyond immediate neighbourhood complaints (inevitable with even the most positive change), towards a long-term vision for Ossington. That takes some thought and effort, and Joe Pantalone is painfully low on both.

    And to philosopher dude: you are guilty of a logical fallacy. You note that most existing restaurants would still be compliant with the new bylaw. But the success of a bylaw is not measured by how many desirable businesses it does NOT make non-compliant. The success of the bylaw will be measured by its ability to achieve its desired results. We need to encourage a vibrant, neighbourhood-friendly, mixed-use main street. This bylaw will likely achieve the opposite result, as College Street shows, and so it must be (largely) scrapped.

    I say “largely,” because I would still keep a 300 square metre limit (not 175) on restaurant sizes. This limit was used with the College bylaw, and makes sense to prevent the type of neighbourhood-unfriendly big box restaurants everyone fears, including existing Ossington businesses. But it would be better to limit space based strictly on public service areas, and leave kitchen or storage space out of it.

  • John

    The biggest problem with the bylaw is its inability to distinguish restaurants from bars. As the staff report notes, many residents said that their problem was not with proper restaurants per se, but with those “restaurants” that operate more like a bar, serving some food but mainly catering to late-night drinking customers. But rather than seek precise definitions of a restaurant, lounge or bar, the planner inexplicably concludes that it is more useful to regulate ALL restaurants as if they were bars, even unlicensed cafes, bakeries and delis. This makes no sense at all. This conclusion ignores the wishes of many bylaw proponents who welcome such restaurants, and wish only to tighten controls on late night drinking establishments.

    By regulating all restaurants as if they were bars, the City will ensure an outcome that no one wants. The fact is, it is much easier to operate a bar than a restaurant, in terms of available space. In order to serve a plate of food, a restaurant needs a food storage area, kitchen space, a holding area, a server and a place to sit and eat. But a bar can be operated profitably with a much smaller footprint and fewer staffers. Restricting space may make it somewhat more difficult to operate a bar, but it will make it much more difficult comparatively to operate a restaurant proper whose primary focus is food service. This bylaw may slow growth, but it has ensured that this future growth disproportionately features bars, and not restaurants. This is exactly the opposite of the outcome sought by proponents of the bylaw.

    By favoring bars over restaurants, the bylaw also favors nighttime businesses over daytime businesses. Daytime foot traffic is essential to creating a vibrant mix of businesses, including fruit stands, mixed retail and other businesses. Cafes tend to lead the way here, since more than most businesses, they attract local residents on a regular basis. But this bylaw does not even distinguish between a licensed establishment and an unlicensed coffee shop or a bakery, whose presence along Ossington appears to be universally desired. This bylaw makes it far less likely that Ossington will achieve a healthy mix of daytime-related businesses.
    Joe Pantalone was warned over ten years ago that noisy new lounges on College Street were displacing longstanding fruit stands and retailers. He knew then that new bylaw definitions were needed to properly distinguish bars/lounges from restaurants in order to achieve some reasonable regulatory control. He did nothing. And then when it was too late, he imposed a bylaw that has had little effect. If anything, College Street is even more dominated by alcohol-serving night-time businesses than it was before the College bylaw. Fortunately, College is a mature commercial street, and the underlying economics of the area allow it to maintain much of its healthy commercial mix, no thanks to Joe Pantalone. But Ossington is still in transition, and if it is to avoid becoming a booze-driven theme park for douchebags, people will need to get much smarter about how they encourage healthy change and a diversity of desirable businesses. That will mean looking beyond immediate neighbourhood complaints (inevitable with even the most positive change), towards a long-term vision for Ossington. That takes some thought and effort, and Joe Pantalone is painfully low on both.

    And to philosopher dude: you are guilty of a logical fallacy. You note that most existing restaurants would still be compliant with the new bylaw. But the success of a bylaw is not measured by how many desirable businesses it does NOT make non-compliant. The success of the bylaw will be measured by its ability to achieve its desired results. We need to encourage a vibrant, neighbourhood-friendly, mixed-use main street. This bylaw will likely achieve the opposite result, as College Street shows, and so it must be (largely) scrapped.

    I say “largely,” because I would still keep a 300 square metre limit (not 175) on restaurant sizes. This limit was used with the College bylaw, and makes sense to prevent the type of neighbourhood-unfriendly big box restaurants everyone fears, including existing Ossington businesses. But it would be better to limit space based strictly on public service areas, and leave kitchen or storage space out of it.

  • cindy

    Seems to me like the prof doesn’t have a grasp on the evolution of a business. Lots of assumptions made. Her arguments suggest she hasn’t ventured out of the ivory tower much.

  • cindy

    Seems to me like the prof doesn’t have a grasp on the evolution of a business. Lots of assumptions made. Her arguments suggest she hasn’t ventured out of the ivory tower much.

  • Max

    This prof and her husband prof clearly have too much time on their hands and believe we should socially engineer our neighbourhoods to death.

    To the profs: Please go back to where you came from, we really don’t need your ideas here, you are a perfect example of American politics at its worst (yes they are American).

  • Max

    This prof and her husband prof clearly have too much time on their hands and believe we should socially engineer our neighbourhoods to death.

    To the profs: Please go back to where you came from, we really don’t need your ideas here, you are a perfect example of American politics at its worst (yes they are American).

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