Thornhill Woods condo proposal leads to clashes


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The Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat (ISIJ) of Toronto, a Muslim organization serving the GTA, has applied to develop a condo complex at the Jaffari Centre mosque at 9000 Bathurst St. — and more than 5,000 people have signed an online petition opposing it.

The proposal includes two 17-storey buildings, 61 townhouses and sports and recreation facilities.

In the relatively low-density neighbourhood of Thornhill Woods, some residents are concerned about the appropriateness of the development. A public hearing was held last month to seek public input on the development, and the City of Vaughan has formed a task force to help gather suggestions to make the development more appropriate. The task force will consist of residents, city and regional representatives and members of ISIJ.

Elena Serebryany, interim vice-chair of the Preserve Thornhill Woods community group, said that this is too dense of a development for her liking.

“The main issue would be the two high-rises. This area has been decided that it’s not part of an intensification area and should remain low-rise,” she said.

Though Serebryany did not comment on the cultural aspect of the development, area councillor Sandra Yeung Racco said that she has witnessed concerns about the religious element of the development.

“At the public hearing, there’s been some underlying tone about the religious factor,” said Yeung Racco. “People have suggested that they’re trying to keep it segregated and that there’s human rights issues.”

However, Yeung Racco said that there is nothing she can do as a city councillor about these issues. “We can’t touch that. That’s not our duty. If they feel that there’s a human rights issue, they would need to go to a body that governs that.”

The online petition platform Petition Buzz, where the petition opposing the development is hosted, has attracted a number of anti-Islamic comments alleging that the complex would not be open to non-Muslims.

ISIJ outreach chair Safiq Ebrahim said this could not be further from the truth. “The reaction in the community is incorrect,” said Ebrahim, adding that ISIJ’s goal is to eventually be inclusive and open to all in the surrounding community.

ISIJ president Shabbir Jeraj echoed this. “Our intention is to design the development with the broader community in mind,” said Jeraj. “Many parts of the development will be open to all residents of Vaughan and the surrounding areas.”

Yeung Racco wants the parties to come together and hopes that they can come to a consensus together rather than taking the conflict to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

“We’re not siding with anyone,” said Yeung Racco. “But for me, my residents are my responsibility.”

Serebryany’s concerns were the same. She said that, in the event that planning staff finds the development inappropriate, she hopes that ISIJ does not appeal to the OMB before the task force can come up with a better alternative.

“I think it’s going to be a long process, but we’re going into this process with open minds and good faith.”

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