Shoppers expansion draws ire

In the coming months, Osborne Village may undergo a dramatic facelift.

On Wednesday, Dec. 21, Winnipeg’s Board of Adjustment, a body comprised of citizen appointees who rule on zoning bylaws, unanimously approved a Shoppers Drug Mart extension plan on the corner of Roslyn Rd. and Osborne St.

The drug store is looking to add an extra 706 sq. metres to their property, bringing the 24-hour pharmacy to 1,300 total sq. metres. This renovation would include an enclosed walkway connecting to the nearby Safeway, and an additional 29 parking stalls.

A second floor development would also see 464 sq. metres of leasable space made available.

In the gallery of city hall, however, over 100 concerned residents came to the meeting to voice their opposition to the project, arguing it will be detrimental to the look and feel of the neighbourhood, and it goes against the Osborne Village Neighbourhood Plan (ONVP) bylaw.

Many at the meeting came out in support of Vi-Ann Vietnamese restaurant, which has been operating out of the building since 2001, and Movie Village, a video store that has been a staple in the neighbourhood since 1984.

Both businesses will be evicted if the expansion goes through.

Shoppers’ Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs representative Tammy Smitham told The Winnipeg Free Press the second floor could be made available for Vi-Ann to rent.

At the Board meeting, a teary-eyed Bac Bui, the owner of Vi-Ann who had buried his mother earlier that day, pled with the Board to respect the bylaws that are set out to protect the “village, pedestrian feel” of the neighbourhood and “provide policies to ensure that future development respects and reinforces what makes Osborne Village unique.

“This neighbourhood means so much to me,” Bui said. “I planned to stay here for the rest of my life.”

Bui told the Board that Martin Ringer, his landlord who owns the building, never told him he was not planning to renew Bui’s lease. The lease is set to expire on June 30, 2012.

Ringer allegedly also approved minor renovations to the restaurant earlier in the year, including a new coat of paint and the replacement of light fixtures.
“If he knew he wanted to sell it, why didn’t he offer me the building? Or tell me? I have spent seven days a week in there, every day, for eight hours, since 2001!” Bui said.

“I will walk out with nothing. [ . . . ] I left everything in my country, and whatever I’ve done for myself, 36 years later, they’re taking.”

Ringer’s lawyer, who was present at the meeting, explained that the decision not to renew was business as usual, and told the board and Bui that “the landlord can do whatever he wants with that property.”

He added that “the silent majority” of the neighbourhood would like to see the expansion proceed; a statement that drew laughs from the gallery. 

The OVNP bylaws state that Osborne Village “is seen as a unique community that possesses characteristics that are not found in other neighbourhoods in Winnipeg.” Its purpose is to prevent large-scale corporate takeover of the business in the neighbourhood.

Section 5.2 of the OVNP bylaw states that the goal of Osborne Village is to encourage a mix of uses, including restaurants and amenities that contribute to distinctive character of the street. 

The 2007 document also cites concerns of “emerging pressures by larger format retailers and chain franchises to locate in the area in a manner that challenges the predominantly pedestrian urban form and character.”

During the meeting, urban planning professors and students came forward with alternatives to the expansion, suggesting the drug mart move to Confusion Corner, arguing that it duplicates many of the services already available in the Safeway next door. 

Expanding the Shoppers Drug Mart would take one of five city blocks of the retail strip, which would be detrimental in keeping it among the top 100 neighbourhoods in Canada, as it is currently distinguished by Spacing Canada, they argued.

“The [Osborne Village Development] Plan does not say that only local businesses are welcome in the Village, or only small businesses [and] the plan does not say businesses are not allowed to expand,” said Michael Robinson, district planner for the City of Winnipeg.

“What it talks about [is how] neighbourhoods change and evolve over time.” 
Robinson maintained that the Shoppers proposal “clearly shows this project meets the criteria, and the administration feels strongly that it should be approved.”

Neither Robinson or the board would entertain points of clarification from the gallery after their decision was made.

“I was so disappointed in Winnipeg. [City Hall doesn’t] accept the great things we have,” said James Sean Korba, an employee of Movie Village who has been working at the store over the last three years.

Kobra said he didn’t take the news personally and his hesitation to accept the project is not just about his job, but concern about the neighbourhood as a whole.
“It sets a precedent for other things to move in and take over. What’s next a McDonalds?” Korba quipped. “It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. [ . . . ] Movie Village aside, this opens up a can of worms.”

However, Korba predicts Osborne will not go down without a fight.
“I think it’s a bigger issue than just Movie Village and Vi-Ann for a lot of people,” he said, arguing that some in the neighbourhood are concerned that development will continue if the expansion goes through.

Jackie Gudz decided not to take the expansion lying down — creating an online venue for Osborne development opponents to share information and updates. Over December, Gudz moderated a Facebook group active online since the news broke.

The Save the Vi-Ann from Shopper group has close to 900 likes on Facebook and is one of three pages to rally against the expansion. Creators of the page helped gather over 2,100 signatures on a petition that was delivered to the board council and are currently looking for legal advice before going into the appeals process.
“We feel that [members of the gallery came] to the general consensus that they had made their decision on the zoning beforehand. It felt like rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic,” said Gudz, who added that there are many people planning to appeal the decision, which is likely to be heard by yet-to-be-named city councillors.

“They weren’t listening to us, they weren’t looking at the specific spirit of the bylaws, or the impact of the plan.”

The Save the Vi-Ann From Shoppers collective is holding a meeting at Vi-Ann Jan. 4 for a planning session regarding an approach to the appeal.

While Vi-Ann is the only Vietnamese restaurant in the Osborne, Movie Village’s cultural cache has also touched moviegoers in Winnipeg for years, argued Korba, pointing out that the store has “an incredible selection of movies that will never be on Netflix.”

Martin Ringer, owner of Movie Village, who lives in Kelowna, B.C., told The Winnipeg Free Press he “screwed up” in facets of how the business transaction was handled.

“I was trying to keep it quiet,” Ringer said.

“Nothing was done intentionally to hurt anyone [ . . . ] I’m an old man, and it just seemed like a good time to sell. [Shoppers] were the right people, and they needed that land.”

He called the expansion plans for the neighbourhood “progress” and vowed to help Vi-Ann relocate.

“What more can you say?” he asked. “I’m sure in the end it will be better for everyone.”

The deadline for appeals to the proposed project is Jan. 17.

This article originally stated that Martin Ringer is the owner of Movie Village. This is not the case. Martin Ringer is the Owner of the building, and Movie Village’s landlord.