The changing face of Osborne Village

An expansion plan that divided Osborne Village residents for months will soon become a reality.

An appeal of the approval of a highly controversial Osborne Shopper’s Drug Mart expansion was denied by city council’s appeals committee Thursday, Feb. 16th.

The city’s board of adjustment approved the expansion plan in December. The plan would see the Shopper’s Drug Mart, located at the corner of Roslyn Rd. and Osborne St., add an extra 706 sq. metres to their property.

The renovation would also include an enclosed walkway connected to the Osborne Safeway, additional parking stalls, and 464 sq. metres of leasable space on the second floor of the building, which Shopper’s Drug Mart intends to make available to other local businesses.

Both the Vi-Ann Vietnamese restaurant and Movie Village, a popular video store, which has operated in Osborne Village since 1984, would be evicted as a result.

The committee, whose membership changes throughout the year, was comprised of area councillor Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge), Dan Vandal (St. Boniface), Brian Mayes (St. Vital) and Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan).

Several people came before the committee both in support of and against the appeal, including representatives from Shopper’s Drug Mart, Bac Buoi, owner of the Vi-Ann restaurant, and a handful of residents of the Osborne Village area.

Shannon Van Raes, a resident of the Fort Rouge district, told councillors that she did not feel that the plan was compatible with the neighbourhood, as Osborne Village is primarily home to a variety of small businesses as opposed to larger box stores.

“I think we all recognize that Movie Village and the Vi-Ann restaurant won’t be around forever . . . but allowing the properties currently occupied by these businesses to be annexed and made into one, ensures that no future small businesses can take up the torch of those locations,” she said.

“I would wonder why anyone would want to reduce [business space on Osborne St.] even further and deny entrepreneurs the opportunity to be successful in that location.”

She added that she felt Shopper’s Drug Mart’s proposal to lease space on the second floor of their building was an “after thought.”

She argued it wouldn’t adequately replace the properties that would be lost as a result of the expansion, as it would not be as accessible to pedestrians.

Jackie Gudz, a resident of Osborne Village, presented a petition with 4,020 signatures of Winnipeg residents against the expansion. She commented that there were also approximately 1,000 additional members of a Facebook page dedicated to opponents of the Shopper’s Drug Mart expansion, and that signatures had come from residents throughout the city.

In contrast, a petition of approximately 1,000 signatures of Osborne Village residents in support of the expansion was brought forward from representatives of Shopper’s Drug Mart. The signatures were collected from customers of the store over a two-week period.

Paul McNeil, a representative of the MMM group, the project development company in charge of the expansion, spoke on behalf of Shopper’s Drug Mart.

He argued that the expansion would be a “significant improvement” to the overall appearance of the building, and reduce the impact of commercial activity near the Roslyn Rd. location.

“The community is much broader than those here [at the appeal] today and I would be cautious about assuming that those in opposition of the plan speak for the whole community,” he said.

McNeil said he thought that the hundreds of signatures and members of Facebook groups opposing the expansion might be more indicative of displeasure over the loss of the Vi-Ann restaurant and Movie Village, and not the expansion itself.

“I don’t think it is a competition as to which group can get the most numbers of names on a particular issue,” he said.

Renovations to the existing building will include a red brick design and will have the look of three separate buildings with the use of different roof lines, in an effort to remain consistent with the character of Osborne Village, explained representatives from the MMM group.

The expansion will also include a covered pedestrian walkway that will be linked to an existing sidewalk on the east side of the nearby Safeway grocery store, as well as space to move the outdoor garbage bins next to the Shopper’s building inside, in an effort to reduce litter and visual clutter.

The second floor space will have its own entrance facing Osborne Street, which will include a stairwell and elevator.

Buoi, who has been operating the Vi-Ann restaurant in Osborne Village since 2001, said he was surprised and disappointed by the appeal committee’s decision.

Though Shopper’s Drug Mart did offer Vi-Ann assistance in relocating the restaurant to the second level of the renovated building, Buoi said he did not accept their offer, as he would not be able to afford to build a new kitchen.

At the moment, Buoi is unsure where or if he will relocate his restaurant, but is currently looking into new locations.

“My customers are unhappy about that, because . . . they want to keep Osborne Village the way that it is. But there’s nothing I can do about that,” he said.

Gerbasi explained that one of the reasons she voted to deny the appeal was because she felt the expansion plan, as it currently stands, might help resolve some of the issues in the near-by parking lot.

She pointed out that the pedestrian walk way will also serve as a speed bump, and that the expansion will eliminate trucks near the back entrance of Shopper’s Drug Mart loading products into the store, by adding a separate loading dock.

“Right now there is no clear route of travel, there’s just wandering cars everywhere. It’s really chaotic in there. What the development’s going to do is put in a clear route of travel,” she said.

In response to arguments that the expansion of a corporate chain store would damage the character of the neighbourhood, she pointed out that there are already several corporate chain stores operating next to the Shopper’s Drug Mart location, including Starbucks, Hakim Optical, and Safeway.

“I hope people understand that I think it’s really unfortunate that we’re losing two local businesses. However, within a dense urban neighbourhood, you do need to have places that people can do their shopping so that they don’t have to drive out of the area,” she said.