Thornhill residents who rely on the Jewish community stores in the kosher Sobeys plaza at Clark and Hilda avenues are fighting an uphill battle against a developer that wants to build a 20-storey residential building on the east side of the site.
Pamela Levy-Taraday, president of the SpringFarm Ratepayers Association (SFRA), a volunteer community advocacy group, spoke to The CJN about the plan that has the neighbouring Jewish community angry and worried that the proposed changes will negatively impact them.
Last November, RioCan – a commercial developer that owns what’s officially called the Spring Farm Marketplace, which is home to a kosher Sobeys, a kosher Second Cup, Israel’s Judaica and other Jewish-themed stores – held a meeting that attracted about 400 people.
At the gathering, Thornhill residents learned about a plan to demolish the stores on the east side of the plaza to make way for an 18-storey building. The proposal has since been amended to add two more storeys to allow for stores on a lower-level platform.
“It’s going to change the traffic patterns. They are going to change the exits… They want to close the Hilda Avenue entrance. The want to have the only real vehicle entrance and exit to the above-ground parking to come from Clark, which [as] we all know, it’s pretty hard to get into the plaza from Clark anyway,” Levy-Taraday said.
In the months since RioCan presented its plan to the community, the SFRA has conducted a community survey, held meetings to appeal to RioCan to amend its proposal, and drafted a petition to the City of Vaughan to halt the development.
The petition states that the proposal violates Vaughan’s official plan and contravenes zoning bylaws for usage, density and height.
Vaughan councillor Alan Shefman, who represents Ward 5, where the plaza is located, said he has “very, very strong reservations” about RioCan’s proposal.
“They’ll need lots [of exemptions]… The reality is that it is not respectful of the city’s official plan,” Shefman said.
“I’m very strongly opposed to what they are doing here, and I don’t think it’s appropriate. I think their behaviour has been disrespectful.”
Shefman said RioCan has been doing nothing more than pay lip service to concerned residents.
In February, RioCan agreed to host a charrette, a meeting that attempts to resolve conflicts between residents and developers.
About an hour into the meeting, which was attended by SFRA committee members and city staff, Shefman was informed that RioCan had already submitted its proposal to the city earlier that day, prior to the consultative gathering.
“To me, that was shocking… it was appalling behavior, and I have rarely seen that with a development company,” Shefman said.
He said he is concerned about the impact the development will have on the Jewish community in the area if it is approved.
“It’s not like any other neighbourhood plaza in the City of Vaughan… RioCan has failed to recognize the uniqueness of the character of that plaza… These guys don’t care. They just don’t care.”
Sobeys, the kosher grocery store that sits on the west end of the plaza, has a lease that runs until 2030 and is currently undergoing renovations.
Sobeys Ontario spokesperson Vicki Leung said the company has been assured by RioCan that the development will not negatively affect them.
“Our investment is for the long term, so we have a vested interest in the Spring Farm Marketplace plaza to ensure that we can provide the most exceptional shopping experiences to our customers,” Leung said.
Attempts to reach members of RioCan’s planning and development team were unsuccessful.
The public hearing to address this proposal is scheduled for May 31.