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February 5, 2014

Doris Strub Epstein

            Hundreds of people jammed Vaughan City Hall at a public meeting Tuesday night.  They spilled over from the council chambers into overflow rooms to speak out about a proposal to build a Muslim high rise enclave in the heart of Thornhill Woods.   The Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat (ISIJ) has applied to build an “urban village” with two high rise buildings and 61 townhouses , around the Jaffari Community Centre. located at 9000 Bathurst St., just south of Rutherford road, adjacent to Ner Yisrael Yeshiva.  The new Islamic community would be an enclave that would include schools, medical, recreational and religious facilities.

            A petition circulating against the proposal has garnered more than 3,250 signatures.  The director of the neighbourhood initiating the petition, Rom Koubi, interim chair of the Association to Preserve Thornhill Woods stated religion has nothing to do with objections to the building.  “This is a dispute related to zoning changes and land use,” he said.

In order to get permission to build, there must be an amendment by the city of Vaughan to redesignate the area  from “Low Density Residential” to “High Rise Mixed Use” designation.

The main issues raised by residents, were safety, clogged traffic and parking – already a problem, detrimental changes to the environment, sewer systems and other infrastructures that have already reached their limit, schools at capacity.

“Add another 1,400 people , another 500 living units and it’s going to create chaos.  The infrastructure cannot support it,” Koubi said.

“This project is very important to us,” ISIJ president Shabbir Jeraj said in a news release.  “It is a realization of a long awaited dream and the vision of the members of the community, many of whom initially participated in the purchase of this property some twenty years ago.”

Nitza Shamiss lives across the street from the mosque. She said she will sell her home if the proposal is approved.   “Why would I want to be next to a refugee community?” she asked.  When you pay for a certain kind of house in a certain kind of neighbourhood, you want the real estate value to hold,” she told a Toronto Star reporter.

“Looks like 100 years back with segregation, a village within a village,” said an unidentified woman at the meeting.

“It’s not fair to change the zoning laws after people buy and live there,” Nava Yehudaiff said.  “This will affect the quality of all our lives.  Let them find a place to live where they do not affect the quality of life in the existing neighbourhood.

Sandra Yeung Racco, councillor for the area  said the city has received hundreds of phone calls, emails and letters opposing the development.  She worries about stoking religious hostilities in the neighbourhood which is ethnically and religiously diverse, with Jews, Muslims and Christians living in harmony side by side.

“We need to look at it from a planning perspective.  I don’t want to see one culture pitted against another culture.  That’s not where we are.  The city of Vaughan is a very diverse city,” she said.

“I think that the Thornhill Woods Community was well represented at the meeting by informed and intelligent speakers that were well acquainted with the issues,” said resident Freya Morrison.  “I am hopeful that their plan will go not through.”

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