City ponders bar limits
Thu, May 7, 2009
RICHMOND ROW: City staff will look into limiting new or expanding drinking spots after hearing a presentation from a downtown resident
If you want a stiff drink or a beer in downtown London or along Richmond Row, there's no shortage of seats -- including the JLC and hotels, there are 48,847 in all.
But if you're a shopkeeper there who wants to insure a plate glass window, you're out of luck: So many have been broken in drunken acts of vandalism, insurance companies won't issue policies.
Those striking facts, the first gathered by Ontario's Alcohol and Gaming Commission, grabbed the attention yesterday of city hall politicians who asked staff to explore whether it makes sense to place some limits on new or expanding bars across the city.
The request came after a presentation by a resident who lives half a block off Richmond St. Michael Hannay has lived near the Row since 1993, his two kids often the only youthful voices on his block.
A professional planner who helped city hall prepare guidelines for more pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods, he warned the city's planning committee that too much of a good thing -- licensed establishments -- could prove Richmond Row's undoing.
The bars pose two threats, he said.
The first threat is immediate -- they tend to replace retail stores, depressing the attraction of the area during the day. The second is long-term: As the mix of uses changes, the neighbourhood becomes less attractive to residents and merchants,who start to leave.
"We're not talking about closing bars or saying that (bar owner) Mike Smith is wrong, but we're probably reaching a tipping point," Hannay said.
There are about 10,000 bar seats along Richmond from Oxford to York streets.
"That's a problem," he said.
It's not just the total number of bars that concerns Hannay and Coun. Judy Bryant, who represents the downtown ward. Some hold more than 1,000 patrons, creating a restless crowd at closing time at 2 a.m., with no transit buses to take them home.
Hannay and Bryant say their concern is reflected in police statistics that show a rise in the number of calls they get in the two hours after bars close.
That taxes the police and there are other costs too: more ambulances, social services and vandalism to repair.
Bars individually aren't bad, Hannay said, since each adds economic and cultural value to the neighbourhood. But allow too many, and it will come at a cost.
"If the bars are benefitting, it's at the expense of taxpayers," he said.
Not all politicians on the planning committee were convinced -- but they asked staff to prepare a report looking at whether action is needed.