City Council Passes a Surprise Freeze on Bathurst Street Retail and Services
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City Council Passes a Surprise Freeze on Bathurst Street Retail and Services

The proposed Kensington Market Walmart will be affected, along with other properties.

An unexpected move by Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) has put the brakes on a proposed Kensington Market Walmart—and likely a number of other development sites along Bathurst Street.

Bathurst has been the focal point of a lot of development-related news lately, from the previously mentioned Walmart, to Bloor Street, where Honest Ed’s is now up for sale. Today, city council unexpectedly paused all of that by passing a motion by Layton that will outlaw new retail and services between Queen and Dupont streets for one year.

It’s not clear whether the moratorium bans all new retail and services on that stretch of Bathurst, or only new retail and services that exceed the existing allowed square footage. Numerous calls to planning officials were not returned. It’s also unclear precisely when the moratorium goes into effect, but it will likely happen at the conclusion of this week’s city council meeting—in which case it would expire a year from then.

The clampdown will affect a number of properties, but most notably the lots surrounding 420 Bathurst Street, on Kensington Market’s western border, where RioCan, a real-estate developer, has been trying to win permission to build a three-storey shopping centre with a Walmart as its anchor tenant.

Councillor Layton maintains that the moratorium isn’t intended to target RioCan specifically. “We’ve seen a bunch of development applications all along Bathurst Street come up over the last couple years, and we know that there are sites that are prime for development that aren’t the highest value use,” he said.

“It’s been a recurring theme that we need to protect the surrounding retail uses.”

Layton said the intent of the moratorium is to hold off developers until City staff can finish a planning study on land use along Bathurst Street. The study is already underway.

Other councillors have tried similarly drastic measures, in recent years, with mixed results. In 2009, Joe Pantalone, Layton’s predecessor in Ward 19, used an interim control bylaw to prevent new bars and restaurants from opening on the Ossington Avenue strip. Opinion on the move was split, but it had the intended outcome: restaurant openings stopped for a while, and eventually, after some legal wrangling with business owners, the City was able to pass new zoning restrictions. In 2012, Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) instituted a similar moratorium on a stretch of Queen Street West.

Layton isn’t expecting a fight. “I don’t suspect there will be a lot of opposition, beyond those large-scale retailers that may or may not be looking at sites,” he said.