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Tensions high at Vaughan meeting over fate of Muslim community complex

Fate of Jaffari Village community development to be decided April 11
April 4, 2018

Despite passionate arguments on both sides of the issue, hundreds of people both for and against a massive residential development proposed by a Thornhill Mosque, deputants kept their cool while making their final pleas to Vaughan city council.

"This is democracy at play," quipped Shafiq Ebrahim outside a jam-packed council chambers as councillors prepare to make a final decision on the proposal next Wednesday.

Ebrahim is the vice president of the Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat (ISIJ) of Toronto, the group hoping to secure council's support for the Jaffari Village community development.

The plan for the area near Bathurst Street and Rutherford Road includes an eight-storey tower and a six-storey tower, along with a school, 60-townhouse complex and parking structure.

Because the land has belonged to the ISIJ since 1994 and the fact that city staff has already issued a report supporting their application, Ebrahim says the council should greenlight it on April 11.

"We are well within the required density for the development," said Ebrahim, disputing assertions by opponents of the development that it would bring in too many people for the current infrastructure of Thornhill Woods.

Ebrahim says his group has done enough compromising. "We have had over 28 meetings with residents, working groups, city staff, councillors on this matter,"he said.

The current proposal is a pared-down version of the original concept, which envisioned two 17-storey towers.

The project has been in the works since 2013 and has been the subject of heated debate. Some in the Muslim community claim the opposition to the development is being motivated by more than just concerns over its size.

However, many argue it is an issue of density.

"You have a horrible potential for traffic problems and that's really that's what the concerns of the community are," said Jordan Kalpin who belongs to a neighbourhood group opposed to the project called Preserve Thornhill Woods Association.

"The transit doesn't exist, we have two-lane traffic," said Kalpin listing off some of the concerns of the opposing residents including worry that too many trees will have to be cut down to build it.

In 2014, a petition against the development gathered more than 5,000 signatures with opponents citing increased traffic, parking, and the expected environmental impact on the East Don River Valley among their reasons.

Another early concern was how inclusive it would be.

Ebrahim admitted in the early years the community was intended to be open exclusively to the muslim community.

The proposal for this latest development including the apartments and townhomes is open to everyone he said.

The focal point of the neighbourhood will be the Jaffari Centre mosque he said.

Some members of that mosque worry anti-Muslim sentiment may be at the heart of the opposition

Vandalism found near mosque

York Regional Police were called in to investigate hateful messages spray-painted on the sidewalk and a sign in front of the Jaffari Centre mosque in July, 2014. The scrawlings were discovered as worshippers arrived at the centre for an event marking the holy month of Ramadan.

The messages were related to the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. One read "Arab go home," while another contained profanity.

There's no evidence the vandalism was connected to the opponents of the proposed development.

However, the neighbourhood around the mosque appears to be actively against the project, with several residents putting "no high rise" signs on their lawns.

The final decision on the Jaffari Community proposal is slated for April 11th.