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Checking out: West Vancouver Safeway closing at month's end
The end of this month will mark the end of an era in West Vancouver when a staple Marine Drive grocery store checks out its last customer.
Employees at the 1650 Marine Dr. Safeway store were given notice earlier this month that when they close shop on Saturday, June 30, it will be for good.
While the approximately 60 workers at the Marine Drive Safeway "have all been placed" in other Safeway stores "all over," according to a Safeway regional spokeswoman, it remains unclear what is to become of the sprawling 1.4-acre Ambleside property.
"They're redeveloping it," the Safeway spokeswoman said. "I don't know what the plans are but the property didn't belong to us," adding that it was never Safeway's decision to leave the site.
The property is owned by the multi-billion dollar H.Y. Louie Group, whose spokesman, Scott Colburn, did not return The Outlook's phone calls last Friday. The company came close to getting approval for one of two massive multi-storey mixed-use developments on the site last summer but both proposals were ultimately quashed in public consultations and the company was sent back to the drawing board.
The two options presented to District of West Vancouver council at the time both included a 41,000-square-foot underground grocery store, 16,800 square feet of ground-level retail and office space and between 144 and 154 residential units. The only difference between the two designs was in their residential buildings, with one option proposing a 15-storey tower and the other 10 storeys.
But what the company has recently told the district is that once Safeway closes its doors on June 30, H.Y. Louie hopes to have another grocery retailer on-site, but who and when are still anyone's guess.
The current building is also expected to undergo "extensive renovations" according to information passed along to The Outlook from the district's planning, lands and development director, Bob Sokol.
"I started hearing rumours and everybody started hearing rumours probably about month ago that Safeway was going to close down," Sokol told The Outlook in a phone interview Wednesday. "And a result of that we tried best we could to contact H.Y. Louie to find out what their plans were for the site and all I've been able to get from them was the fact that yes, the Safeway lease ends July 1 and they've given notice to Safeway the lease will not be extended and that long-term, they'd like to have another grocery store on the site."
But as yet, the district has received no new applications for either a building permit or a development permit for the site, meaning 1650 Marine Dr. will be a vacant hole in the heart of Ambleside for some time.
"At minimum, I assume they're going to want to do extensive renovation work on the interior and that will require a building permit," Sokol said, noting that it takes a few weeks to get a building permit approved through his department. "And depending on the renovation work they're going to want to do on the exterior of the building, that would require a development permit" taking several months to approve, he said.
In the meantime, West Vancouver councillor Nora Gambioli says her district hall office continues to be flooded with complaints about the looming closure of the neighbourhood grocery that's been a West Van institution for decades.
"It's going to sit empty for at least six months or more," Gambioli said. "It's a big, big screw up and it's a big issue. We've had tons of people phoning district hall and of course it has nothing to do with us, it's a private business. But it's going to affect a lot of people."
The H.Y. Louie Group is the second largest group of retailers in B.C., whose holdings include IGA, Marketplace IGA and London Drugs.
Safeway opened on Marine Drive in 1957.