Residents in the ByWard Market say they are fed up with the proliferation of bars in the neighbourhood, saying licensed establishments have crowded out shops and made the once-vibrant community a dead zone during the day and a nightmare at night.
Members of the Lowertown Community Association and residents were among those who spoke at a hearing Tuesday and Wednesday over a hair salon/café at 113-115 Clarence St. that has applied for a liquor licence.
Headquarters hair salon, at the former location of Canadian Rug Traders, is applying for a liquor licence for an establishment that would seat more than 200 people and be open until 2 a.m.
Sarah Jennings, a retail property owner and resident in the neighbourhood, spoke at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario License Appeal Tribunal hearing and says the last thing the ByWard Market needs is more bars.
'We can't walk out of our houses at night'
"More and more there's been a movement to a monoculture in the market," Jennings told CBC Radio's All in a Day. Too many bars and restaurants coming into the neighbourhood "to the exclusion of the other diverse activities" has led to a pronounced deterioration in the market, Jennings said.
"People like myself, residents in the area, we can't walk out of our houses at night," Jennings said.
Lowertown Community Association president Liz Bernstein wrote to the commission about its opposition to the licence proposal, saying it would increase problems such as "nighttime crowds, crime and related disturbances."
In 2008, there were 17,000 licensed seats among the bars and restaurants in the market, but now there are over 21,000 , Bernstein wrote. Crimes against persons and assaults in the neighbourhood rose at a similar rate, she noted in her letter to the commission.
"Residents feel unsafe because of the high level of intoxication," she wrote.
Aydin Kharaghani, one of the owners of Headquarters, said the move to apply for the licence came because of interest from corporate and artistic groups wanting to use the space, and said applying for a liquor licence was a way to operate those kinds of events without limitations.
Though the coffee shop and salon has fewer than 80 seats right now, the application calls for 210 because that is what the city's occupancy rules permit, he said. The actual number of seats will be about 133, he said.
Kharaghani, who also owns Atari in the Market and is one of the co-founders of the Escapade Music Festival, told All in a Day he was surprised by the resistance from the community and said the notion put forth by neighbours that the number of licensed seats in the market has any relation to crime is "not objective and strictly speculative."
City investigating 10 businesses
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario doesn't distinguish between a restaurant and a bar when determining whether to issue a liquor license, but the city of Ottawa introduced an interim control bylaw more than a decade ago to curb any more bars from coming into the market, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said.
That's led to another problem as businesses get established as a restaurant first and then slowly morph into a nightclub or bar, Fleury said.
Ten businesses in the market are now under investigation for violating the interim control bylaw by illegally transforming from their original incarnation into nightclubs or bars, he said.
Kharaghani said he can't speak for what other establishments in the market are doing, but said his occupancy is specifically as a restaurant.
"I am not permitted legally to be a nightclub and bar," he said.
Fleury also attended the hearing — the first time he says he has done so in his more than seven years as a councillor — and asked the adjudicator to restrict the hair salon and café's liquor licence to its current seating and its current hours of operation. Headquarters is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
"If alcohol use is secondary to the hair salon and café location, then perfect, let's make the alcohol restriction to their existing opening hours so that alcohol use doesn't become the primary use of the location," Fleury told CBC Radio's All in a Day.
Jennings said she would support a licence with those conditions.
The appeal tribunal is expected to make a decision within 30 days.