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Thornhill residents reject revised Muslim housing plan

Jaffari Community Centre
Jaffari Community Centre

Thornhill Woods residents who have been fighting an Islamic organization’s plan to build a community housing complex for Muslims in the predominantly Jewish suburb say the latest revision to the proposal still isn’t good enough.

In 2013, the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat of Toronto (ISIJ) applied to build a new Islamic development built around the Jaffari Community Centre that included two 17-storey residential towers, 61 townhouses and retail space on its 11- hectare property at 9000 Bathurst St., south of Rutherford Road.

READ: Vaughan council rejects Muslim housing development

A residents’ group set up to oppose the proposed development, Preserve Thornhill Woods Association, led by Rom Koubi, has been working to prevent the City of Vaughan planning department from approving it ever since, claiming the project contravenes density guidelines and is intended for Muslims only.

The city rejected the original plan based on zoning bylaws and the impact that more than 1,400 new residents would have on the suburb’s infrastructure, traffic and parking, as well as local schools that are already at capacity.

A working group was established in 2014 to help the ISIJ revise its proposal, since the city’s official plan designates the area for low-rise development.

Shabbir Jaffer, vice-president of ISIJ Toronto, and Shafiq Punjani, the housing project’s chair, said they’re “cautiously optimistic” the latest revision, submitted in late October, will appease residents’ and city officials’ concerns.

“We tried to adhere in good faith to the principles of the process that were established. Now we put our full confidence in the city council and its staff to consider the proposal objectively before they arrive at their decision,” Jaffer said.

Punjani said the plan is to reduce the height of the two buildings from 17 stories each to six and eight stories, respectively. He said the ISIJ has also addressed traffic concerns by proposing a public road going through the development.

“We’ve also agreed in principle to have the parking facility that we are going to be constructing be accessible to other neighbours, including the [Toronto] Waldorf School, with whom we already share a parking agreement.”

But Koubi said despite the fact the high-rise buildings have been replaced with shorter, wider buildings, the same density problems still apply.

“It doesn’t conform with the rest of the neighbourhood when it comes to look and feel of the neighbourhood… We’re talking about 60 townhomes in an area on a street that has 17 houses on it. Everything is really dense,” Koubi said.

He added that he also opposes the plan to make it a segregated development for Muslims.

According to the planning justification report submitted to the city, “the proposed development is considered a cultural campus, because it is envisioned to meet the unique needs and serve the members of the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat of  Toronto.”

READ: Vandals spray anti-Arab graffiti outside Toronto-area mosque

Punjani countered that “this development will be an inclusive development, and it will be open to all members of the public, although it is being designed with our community needs in mind. So the seniors centre that is being proposed would cater to their dietary needs, like halal meat… but having said that, it would be open to anyone who wanted to reside in the facility.”

Koubi said that when he challenged that claim at a public hearing, asking the developers how many of the units would be reserved for the broader public, “They said, ‘It is going to be offered first to our people, and whatever is left over will be sold to other people and we expect eight to 10 per cent to be available to the wider community.’”

Koubi added that the ISIJ agreed to allow members of the broader community to use its facilities, which include a soccer field and a tennis court, “but they allowed one hour a week to be open to the public.”

His group will hold a community-wide meeting next month to review the new application. The City of Vaughan is expected to hold a public hearing about it in early February.

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