‘We can’t sleep:’ Residents say noise is out of control near King Street West

People who live in a trendy Toronto neighbourhood say the noise from nearby restaurants needs to be investigated.

By Pat Taney

A lot of people who decided to move to the King West neighbourhood never expected a quiet living retreat exempt from noise.

“We are living downtown, noise is inevitable,” Nicki Skinner said.

She lives in one of the many condos that surround the busy area.

During the day, there are construction trucks working on the many high-rises being built here. Sirens from emergency vehicles echo through the streets which are lined with several people visiting the many restaurants, bars and cafes here.

“That’s why we love living here,” Skinner said. “We have great restaurants. Everything we need is here.”

Except sleep.

“Late at night, it’s next to impossible to get sleep, Wednesdays through Sundays,” Skinner said. “Our windows vibrate from the noise from the deep bass.”

Residents have been recording videos on their cell phones from inside their condos to demonstrate the noise they say is coming from rooftop and patio bars in the neighbourhood in the late-night hours.

“Because there are so many new condo towers, the sound now bounces between all the buildings, right into our homes.”

It’s the timing of this particular noise that’s raising alarm bells. Residents say several establishments blast music beyond 11 p.m., which, according to the City’s noise bylaw, is the cut-off time.

“The demographics of people who live here have changed over the years,” Skinner said. “We have a lot of parents with kids and nobody is getting sleep.”

Skinner and others say they call 311 repeatedly to report violations.

“The music is just blasting, and these places don’t care,” she said. “They don’t face penalties or fines, so they continue doing what they want to do.”

New rooftop patio raises alarm bells

While complaints have been ongoing for years, residents like Skinner have become more concerned after the construction of a new rooftop patio, which is being built feet from her condo balcony.

“If you can shake hands with the people having dinner, that’s a little too close,” Skinner said.

It’s being built by Earl’s Restaurant Group, which plans to open an upscale restaurant in early 2024. In a statement from Earl’s, a spokesperson told CityNews construction of the rooftop patio is being done to mitigate noise pollution.

“The open-air portion of the patio that faces King West and the covered roofline will block the sound from impacting the residents surrounding our building.”

They also told us the speakers are controllable on their own audio zone which will allow operators to manage the sound levels for guests and adjacent residents.

“Earl’s will follow local operating bylaws and adjust volume levels accordingly,” the spokesperson said.

People like Skinner say Earl’s may very well end up being a good neighbour.

“We will have to wait and see.”

But she and other neighbours, who’ve started a social media campaign to raise awareness, say the process to approve the new rooftop patio permit, which got the green light in March, left them out of the discussion.

“How can they do that without a community consultation session?” Skinner asked. “There must be a variance to the use of the property for them to do that.”

According to an email response from a staff member for Deputy Mayor Ausma Malik, who represents this area and looked into the complaints, the current city zoning bylaw already allows patios in this area so no public review was needed for the approval process.

“Moving forward we want that to change,” Skinner said. “These decisions impact our lives, we should have input.”

Residents want better enforcement 

Residents are also calling for stronger enforcement of noise violations they call to report.

“When we call 311, they tell us they’ll be here to investigate in two weeks,” Skinner said. “Well, two weeks the sound will be gone. Bylaw officers need to be here when it’s happening.”

A city spokesperson said each issue is addressed on a case-by-case basis to make sure “reasonable, fair and appropriate actions are taken. For example, in some cases, the issue may be resolved through education. In other cases, further enforcement action may be required.”

After an inquiry from CityNews, we found out that 32 complaints have been made related to rooftop patios in the King West area since January 2022.

A city spokesperson said some of those are still active but no charges have been issued against any establishment yet, but the spokesperson reiterated cases are still open.

If convicted, an establishment may have to pay a fine for the offence. Fines are issued in several parts.

“Under Part 1 of the Provincial Offences Act, the fine amounts for Noise Bylaw violations vary depending on the offence. A set fine for non-compliance with amplified noise regulations is $500. For repeat offences, the City may also choose to lay a charge under Part 3, which includes a summons to court.

If convicted, non-compliant establishments may have to pay a fine up to $100,000 or a daily fine of up to $10,000 for each day the violation continues.”

The spokesperson said the establishment may also have to pay a special fine for economic gains from the bylaw violation. If it is a corporation, every director or officer may have to pay a fine of no more than $100,000.

But residents are angry that with a number of complaints on file, no charges have been laid against the establishments — an issue Deputy Mayor Malik’s office says they are looking into.

“The City has multiple open investigations into multiple properties in the area. While this means information is limited, we have pushed to ensure the urgency of these investigations and receive updates on their outcomes,” Malik said.

Residents say pandemic made problem worse 

During the COVID pandemic, the City permitted restaurants to expand patio space which allowed many to survive following strict rules regarding indoor dining.

Now that restrictions for indoor dining have been lifted, some say the issue needs to be revisited.

“Our bylaws haven’t caught up with this new reality,” Malik said.

The City is conducting two reviews related to this. The Noise Bylaw Review and the Night Economy Review — a series of public meetings to get reactions from residents and businesses.

The goal is to determine what, if any changes need to be made by city staff.

“In our growing downtown communities, residents understand that a level of noise is to be expected. It is important to manage a thriving downtown that locals and visitors alike can enjoy, as well as the need to ensure residents are able to rest and have confidence that they will not endure undue noise levels,” Malik said.

Skinner and her neighbours have been attending the meetings to give feedback. They say they’re not trying to end the party.

“We love these restaurants; we go to them,” she said. “We just want them to be good neighbours and respect the law, that’s it. A good night’s sleep is not too much to ask.”

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