Division of Power #7 Shopper’s expansion unfortunate but inevitable

The City of Winnipeg committee meeting held today, which saw all four members effectively approve the expansion of the Osborne Street Shopper’s Drug Mart, was a historic moment for the Village. It was also an important moment for Fort Rouge councillor Jenny Gerbasi, who passionately articulated the inner turmoil she had to overcome in order to reject the appeal of Vi Ann restaurant owner Bac Bui and other concerned citizens.

Councillor Gerbasi lived up to her reputation as a public official who responds directly to her constituents, demonstrating why the residents of Fort Rouge—many of whom live in the Village—have supported her for 13 years.

It is incredibly sad to see Vi Ann restaurant and Movie Village sold off and demolished. As the events of the committee meeting began to settle in my mind, and as I made phone calls to get a response from Shopper’s Drug Mart, I realized that two businesses with literally a local face have been replaced by a company with a media relations spokesperson based in Toronto.

It is also sad to realize that the offer Shopper’s Drug Mart made to Bac Bui to relocate his restaurant to the top floor was really a meagre concession and a way for the company to save face among Osborne Village residents.

It was announced today that Bac was offered the second floor of the expanded Shopper’s, which amounts to roughly 5,000 square feet, with the incentive that he would have two years rent-free, with the full “market comparable” rent being phased-in each year for a maximum of eight years.

While, on the surface, 10 years of reduced rent seems like a significant concession, it is worth noting that Bac (a man who has operated a restaurant for over a decade) has rejected the offer outright. This is because he would have to fully pay for the building of a kitchen and to move everything from one location to another, which a Shopper’s spokesperson clarified this afternoon.

It is also worth noting that Shopper’s, based on what was presented this afternoon, did not approach him as an equal negotiating partner for the lease, but simply plunked a rudimentary and vague offer down in front of him. Why would he accept an offer outright that outlines no details about how he would financially be able to relocate?

This is excluding issues to do with the reduction of street-level diversity that have been addressed by a number of bloggers, most notably Rob Galston, Christopher Leo and Walter Krawec. I will be dealing with these issues in a news article to be published next Thursday.

However, I don’t think the committee would have been legally justified in disallowing this expansion.

Ultimately, there is a willing seller (landlord Martin Ringer) and a willing buyer (Shopper’s Drug Mart) and the proposed development has been granted an exemption on square footage requirements in the zoning bylaw because it has gone to great lengths to conform with the city’s long-term planning documents, most especially with the Osborne Village Neighbourhood Plan.

As a city planner said today, bylaws and planning documents don’t police what kinds of commercial development can go in a particular area (as long as it is zoned for commercial uses)—-it simply polices the forms of commercial development (ie, what it will look like, how it will interact with the neighbourhood).

Corporations, just as much as small businesses, have every right to operate and purchase buildings in commercially zoned neighbourhoods.

Shopper’s will be retaining just as many street-level entrances (two) that exist at the current site, while diverting truck traffic away from Roslyn Road through the relocation of its loading dock. It has also added commercial space on the second floor available for lease and will be moving the gaudy dumpsters that currently sit in the parking lot indoors.

They have also committed to building a covered pedestrian corridor, which will signal to drivers that they are entering an area meant largely for pedestrians.

The amended development, which is different in many important ways from the one tabled in front of the Board of Adjustment in December, includes a separate street-level entrance for the post office.

As Coun. Gerbasi emphasized during her speech in front of the media and citizens in the gallery, the issue of traffic around that area has consistently plagued her. This development will resolve that issue in several ways.

None of this is ideal. The reaction to many in the community, and many Winnipeggers generally, is: “this sucks.” It does.

But, with a willing buyer and a willing seller, and with significant concessions made to conform with city bylaws and planning documents, the committee couldn’t have decided any different.

Division of Power is a biweekly exploration of politics and federalism as it pertains to Winnipeg.