What's behind the Southwest borough's controversial new restaurant bylaw

Montreal's Southwest borough has voted unanimously to adopt a zoning change that would put a cap on new restaurants on Notre-Dame Street. Here's a closer look at the proposal and the bigger issues at stake.

Unanimously-adopted zoning change prevents new restaurants from setting up within 25 metres of an existing one

Residents of Saint-Henri, a gritty Montreal neighbourhood with roots that date back to the industrialization of Canada, are trying to prevent their district from turning into an enclave of trendy, upscale restaurants and little else. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Montreal's Southwest borough voted Tuesday night in favour of a zoning change that will put a cap on new restaurants on Notre-Dame Street.

The bylaw, which was adopted unanimously at an evening council meeting, will prevent new restaurants from setting up within 25 metres of an existing establishment.

Lured by cheap rents, some of the city's trendiest restaurants have set up shop in the traditionally working-class neighbourhoods that border the Lachine Canal – turning Saint-Henri into a hornet's nest of opposition over rising commercial and residential rents.

Here's a closer look at the bylaw and the bigger issues at stake: 

What the bylaw will do

The Southwest borough wants to encourage a greater mix of businesses on Notre-Dame Street, which has become a magnet for high-end restaurants.

Maxime Tremblay's Saint-Henri grocery store was targeted by anti-gentrification looters earlier this year. (CBC)
Projet Montréal, which has been championing the bylaw, argues the explosion of new restaurants has led to higher rents and has limited different types of businesses from setting up shop on Saint-Henri's most popular street.

As a solution to these problems, the borough plans to limit the number of restaurants allowed to open.

This comes on the heels of anti-gentrification protests that rocked the Saint-Henri neighbourhood earlier this year.

What's behind the plan

Projet Montréal Coun. Craig Sauvé, who has been championing the plan, said the idea is to ensure the commercial strip caters to people who live in the area, not just those visiting to eat.

Some neighbourhoods in the Southwest borough are becoming more well off, while others are facing more hardship, a Centraide report says. (Wikimedia Commons)
He said residents have voiced their concerns and want more variety of commerce along the artery that runs east-west through the borough.

"People want to see more retail. People want to see different kinds of services. People want to see grocery stores, fruit and vegetable stores, bakeries – and not just certain types of restaurants."

There are, however, some exceptions, under a loophole in the bylaw that allows for hybrid restaurants. 

"For example, if I wanted to open up a café-barbershop, that's okay," he said. "That doesn't count as a restaurant, that's going to count as something else."

What residents are saying (for and against)

At an anti-gentrification demonstration last weekend, residents lamented the changing face of the neighbourhood.

A view of the Southwest borough's St-Jacques Street. (Corinne Smith)
Marc-Olivier Rainville, who has lived in the area for 20 years, said it's increasingly difficult to find a spot to socialize with neighbours.

"I certainly don't go to these new restaurants," he said.  "Even if some of them aren't that expensive, it's certainly above my income."

Another resident, Mona Luxium, said she isn't sure a cap on new restaurants will work.  

"I don't know that it's the fact that they're restaurants that's the problem," she said, adding that she'd like to see a community centre in the area.

Not everyone is on board.

At Tuesday council meeting, resident Derek Robertson spoke out against the plan, saying the restaurants have brought life to the area.

"There's vibrancy," he said.

Jon Bloom of the Tuck Shop restaurant called the bylaw "ridiculous,'' saying there are enough available storefronts on the street, and the city should not intervene.

"If you say you can't open restaurants, you're going to have a lot more empty space out there,'' he told Canadian Press.

The bigger issues at stake

The bylaw, of course, is part of a larger debate over gentrification.

The non-profit funding agency Centraide's analysis of the Southwest noted that "some neighbourhoods are becoming more well off while others are facing more and more hardship."

"Whereas some commercial streets are more vibrant (Notre-Dame, Monk), underprivileged populations are finding themselves cut off and have difficulty accessing local businesses and services," the report says.

Sauvé said he would do more if he could, including address a shortage in subsidized housing, which is largely funded by the province. He sees the bylaw as a stop-gap measure.

"What we want is to maintain the diversity of neighbourhoods, and we're using the tools we have at our disposal," he said.

He said the bylaw isn't unusual. For years, other boroughs, including Plateau–Mont-Royal, have had similar rules in place on commercial streets, including Mount-Royal Avenue and Laurier Street.

with files from Emily Brass and The Canadian Press


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