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Canada: Muslims seek to erect Muslim housing complex in Jewish community

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What could possibly go wrong? The proposed development is located in the heart of one of Canada’s largest Jewish communities. This monstrosity of a development will stick a knife through the heart of this quiet and largely Jewish populated community.

The Toronto Star noted the obvious in 2014: “The units would not be exclusive to Muslims, but the ISIJ expects the proximity to the mosque will attract primarily residents of Islamic faith.”

The proposed development is on the site of the Jaffari Community Centre, which according to the Toronto chapter of the Jewish Defense League promotes jihad and participates in the Israel hating Al-Quds Rally.

If this development is approved, attacks like the one that occurred at a Thornhill synagogue last week could happen much more frequently, and even on a regular basis. The Muslim residential development, will over time, finish much of Thornhill, Ontario as a thriving Jewish city. Many families will leave, since Thornhill may no longer be safe for Jews.

“Thornhill Muslim community development to be appealed at OMB,” by March 22, 2018:

The Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat (ISIJ) wants permission to rezone and develop the property around the Jaffari Community Centre mosque at 9000 Bathurst St.—land they have owned for 20 years.

Dubbed the “Jaffari Village,” the initial 2014 plan proposed two 17-storey residential towers, a retail space and 61 townhouses in the low-density neighbourhood. Then, both religious tensions and concerns about density surfaced in community discussions, with more than 3,250 people signing a petition against it at the time.

Today, after 28 meetings with city staff and the Preserve Thornhill Woods Association, the final proposal now sees 60 three-storey townhouses, a six-storey seniors’ residence, an eight-storey residential building, a new secondary school, and a new park and nature trail along the East Don River.

“We just don’t want density in the neighbourhood,” said Rom Koubi, chairman of the Association.

“We have addressed each and every concern that has been on this application,” said Shafiq Ebrahim, ISIJ vice-president, who read out 14-pages of contentious items the ISIJ had received from the community and city staff. These included everything from traffic to the shape and heights of the buildings, to accessible education facilities.

“It’s gotten to a point where we think we are not making any headway with the residents’ association or local citizens,” he said.

With OMB rules set to change next month, ISIJ appealed in mid-November to ensure their proposal was considered under the same rules they initially applied within. Ebrahim said they had no other choice but to appeal to see their property become the mixed-use, inclusive development they’ve dreamed of for two decades.

“This is our property,” said Ebrahim. “We have the right to build, and we will build in accordance with the law…we are at the point where we say here’s where we’re at.”

Despite the changes made, Ebrahim says “the same old issue keeps coming up.”

“It’s too much,” said Koubi. “It’s way too big. It’s way outside the look, the feel, the height, and density of the neighbourhood…It’s way too outside the character of the neighbourhood.”

As the chairman of the Preserve Thornhill Woods Association and a 15-year-long resident in the neighbourhood, Koubi has been actively involved in conversations with the ISIJ to help “their proposal come to life.” The development is “fence to fence” with his house, and one he thinks is too dense for “a very relaxed neighbourhood.”

He admits that ISIJ has addressed some of the concerns the Association brought up, but still believes the neighbourhood can’t support the development. Koubi says there are not enough parking spots to accommodate what he expects to be the increased traffic flow to the mosque. He’s also concerned about the development’s impact on the Don River and the potential stress on public schools.

His main issue is not with the mosque, he says, which “has been around longer than the neighbourhood itself.”

“The major issue is you need to be considerate with your neighbours and your neighbourhood,” said Koubi. “You don’t want to have a tower next to your house because it doesn’t look right…There’s no where in the neighbourhood that looks like that.”

The City of Vaughan has yet to take a position on the development. In an email, local councillor Sandra Yeung Racco wrote the City has “listened and worked with residents, the developers as well as York Region and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to review the proposed development plans to address the concerns of the community.”

Yeung Racco added that both she and City staff had provided all correspondence sent through e-mail and social media to the City’s Planning Department, and that a City staff report evaluating the development is expected in the next few weeks.

“It certainly is unusual for a council to take four years and more to make a decision in the issue when the proponent of the proposal has so significantly altered their initial plans,” said Myer Siemiatycki, a professor of politics at Ryerson University. Siemiatycki has conducted many studies on the planning issues surrounding mosques. “It seems longer and more drawn out than it should be.”

Siemiatycki said he can’t think of any historical parallels to a faith community wanting to develop the adjacent area to its place of worship, or for a development proposal being actively edited for five years and not receiving a verdict from the municipal government in that time.

The timing of the ISIJ’s appeal is significant to him because it validates the changes to the OMB’s authority to move the onus to the municipality to make decisions.

“Local councils are responsible for zoning and planning and land use…and of course city councils are elected and the OMB isn’t,” he said, adding that the ISIJ’s proposal seems beneficial to the community at large and the resistance perhaps rooted in the idea of the potential expansion of the Muslim presence in the area.

“It does look like there’s an awful lot of vacant land, kind of unsightly vacant land surrounding the mosque that is already there….The irony is, having a lot of residents be walking distance to the mosque might reduce the amount of driving and traffic to the mosque,” he added. “This could be the solution.”

Mark Flowers, ISIJ’s legal counsel, told the Star that the appeal is one way to prompt a council position, adding that Vaughan city council is expecting a large turn out on March 27 and has moved the meeting to council chambers with planned overflow rooms. There will be no decision at this meeting; it is purely administrative.

“Obviously we’d like to see some finality to the project,” said Flowers, who says that the development has been proposed in a “sensitive way,” with the townhouses being proposed adjacent to residential buildings, and the mid-rise buildings furthest away at Bathurst street.

That finality, said Flowers, would be when the OMB hearing is completed and a decision is rendered, which he doesn’t see happening till 2019. “It has been a rather contentious application,” he added. This is despite the fact the density being proposed, said Flowers, is less than that permitted in low-density neighbourhood.

In 2016, the Ontario government created new requirements for suburban development, one of which included ensuring at least 60 per cent of all new residential developments be created in already developed areas.

Ebrahim remains “cautiously optimistic.”

“The project is inclusive…I don’t understand how it cannot benefit the community,” he said. “We have the right to develop.”

 

 

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