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January 27, 2014

by Doris Strub Epstein

“This is not about race or religion, this is about our neighbourhood.”

The Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat of Toronto, a Shia Muslim organization, has applied to the city of Vaughan to build a multi-faceted “urban village” in the heart of Thornhill Woods, with two high rise buildings and townhouses, around their primary centre and place of worship, the Jafari Community Centre, located at 9000 Bathurst St. just south of Rutherford road, adjacent to Ner Yisrael Yeshiva.  It would be an enclave that would include schools and medical and recreational facilities.

The residents of Thornhill Woods are up in arms.   Despite the bone-chilling cold, hundreds turned out to protest, lining the walls of the North Thornhill Community Centre Monday night.

“When we bought our house eight years ago, we thought we came to a quiet residential haven – nature, woods, green – no high rises,” said one woman, reflecting the views of her neighbours.  “And we paid a lot of money. We didn’t want to live downtown with high rises.”

The residents of Thornhill Woods are as diverse as you can get ethnically and religiously. They are insisting that their objections to the development are because it would utterly change their community.  The meeting opened with a declaration that “This is not about race or religion. This is about our neighbourhood.”

The plan to build two 17 story high rise apartment buildings, one with 205 units, the other containing 172 units, plus 61 three storey residential townhouses,  units would bring detrimental changes to this low density residential area, and affect their quality of life, they fear.

With the kthousands of additional vehicles that the development would bring, the meeting focused on issues such as safety, traffic congestion, noise and pollution.  The proposed zoning area is already riddled with overloaded traffic jams,  even in the surrounding neighbourhoods.  Overcrowding and privacy – “they will be able to look into our bedroom windows”- were cited.

Environmental concerns were expressed. The proposed area is right along some of the most beautiful wet lands along the Don River.”I don’t believe that building two massive eye sore condos along the Don River is an environmentally responsible idea,” said one man.

People worried that their quality of life and property values hang in the balance with the proposed development.

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

Councillor Sandra Yeung Racco explained that this is just the beginning of a process.  All zoning applications must go through a public process. “Anyone can apply to build anything,” she said, “There will be a public meeting February fourth, and you can make your arguments there.  Each person is allowed five minutes for a deposition, verbal or written.”

The public hearing will be held on February 4 at 7:p.m. at Vaughan City Hall, Council Chamber, 2141 Major Mackenzie Drive.

A petition is currently being circulated by the residents of Thornhill Woods:  http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/9000bathurst

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