Vaughan’s council voted 7-0 on April 11 to approve a municipal staff report on a widely-contested Islamic community and housing complex, but the drawn-out controversy is far from over.
Council voted unanimously to accept an earlier recommendation of its committee of the whole, which had endorsed the 46-page report by the city’s planning staff, with conditions.
City staff had recommended that the Ontario Municipal Board be advised that the city endorses the plan, as long as outstanding issues are addressed.
Thus, council’s approval went only as far as the application complies with zoning regulations and adherence to the city’s official plan.
Further approval is conditional on a variety of issues raised by local ratepayers, including parking, traffic and the development’s environmental impact.
“We are happy that [council] listened and tried to accommodate our concerns,” Rom Koubi, chairman of the Preserve Thornhill Woods Association, told The CJN.
The 11-hectare site, dubbed Jaffari Village, currently houses a mosque and an adjoining community centre, an elementary school and a banquet hall.
The passionate debate over the development began in 2013, when the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jama’at of Toronto (ISIJ) applied to build two 17-storey residential towers, 61 townhouses, and retail space at 9000 Bathurst St., at Ner Israel Drive, in the heavily Jewish area known as Thornhill Woods.
Almost immediately, concerns about increased traffic, congestion and density surfaced.
There were also religious tensions that the complex would be a Muslim-only enclave, despite assurances from the ISIJ’s lawyer that it would be “open to all members of the public.”
After 28 meetings with city staff and the Preserve Thornhill Woods Association, and five amendments to the plan, the ISIJ scaled back the project to 60 three-storey townhouses, a six-storey seniors’ residence, an eight-storey residential building, a three-storey above-ground parking garage, a high school and a new park and nature trail.
Despite the changes, many Thornhill residents remain opposed to the complex.
To date, city officials have received 45 deputations, 360 letters, more than 100 other communications, and a 2014 petition with more than 5,000 signatures of residents opposing the project.
The ISIJ “will now need to do another set of studies at peak time to truly determine how much parking, traffic, and sewer capacity it has,” according to Koubi.
“Based on that, they will need to revise their plan to address this volume.”
Shafiq Ebrahim, vice-president of ISIJ, said his group “has provided the city with everything they needed and staff [considered] it. It went to the committee of the whole, which made a recommendation to council, and council unanimously approved,” he said.
If the city does come back with a list of demands, “we’ll take that under advisement. We’ll make that determination.”
The ISIJ has also challenged the City of Vaughan before the Ontario Municipal Board, now the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), claiming the city took too long to approve amendment applications.
A pre-hearing conference call is scheduled for May 9 to discuss the city’s April 11 vote and how the ISIJ chooses to proceed.