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Markham council rejects Metrolinx plan to tunnel subway under Thornhill neighbourhood

City backing gives clout to residents' pleas to stop the 'monster under the bed'
June 18, 2021

Thornhill residents are among many in York region looking forward to the extension of the Yonge subway line up to Richmond Hill, but they have become increasingly fed up and fearful ever since Metrolinx announced in March a revised route that will tunnel under homes in the Royal Orchard neighbourhood.

“We want the subway extension to happen. We have been waiting for this to happen for 10 years, but not like this,” said Na’ama Zukier.

“We are growing more helpless in our very reasonable desire to avoid our futures being permanently affected by the tunnelling under our homes and our community.”

Metrolinx said the decision to move the subway tunnel from its original Yonge Street alignment is due to a combination of factors, including reducing tunnelling costs by connecting the subway line to the existing CN rail corridor just beyond Royal Orchard to keep the project within the original $5.6-billion funding envelope.

But residents say the cost savings comes at their expense.

“Our homes and community are under threat from this,” said Gerald Goldberg, who is among hundreds of residents who have made repeated deputations to city council, written letters to their members of Parliament, members of provincial parliament and Metrolinx officials ever since the transit agency switched gears on the route.

They say the plan will have negative effects -- both during the construction phase and upon completion -- on their community, which includes Donalbain Crescent, Thorny Brae Drive, Banquo Road and Kirk Drive.

They insist there is no rationale to build a subway line through the heart of the neighbourhood, and no guarantee the ongoing mitigation suggested by Metrolinx to keep homes safe and residents comfortable will be delivered.

Referring to the prospect of subway trains running 10 metres underneath their basements 390 times a day as the “monster under the bed,” Goldberg and members of the Stop Option 3 residents group were looking to the city to back them up, thereby give their voice more clout with the province.

An overwhelming rejection by Markham council June 8 of Metrolinx’s Option 3 alignment may be the first step toward that.

Thornhill Coun. Keith Irish, who has led the charge against Metrolinx’s preferred alignment, called council’s decision a “great victory.”

“The community has a lion’s heart; I had the luck to give the roar,” he said, crediting the residents for mobilizing with thoughtful analysis and tenacity.

Council’s decision came on the heels of a rally in Thornhill that saw residents, as well as Irish and Deputy Mayor Don Hamilton, take their campaign to the streets June 5.

Janice Cardinale, who helped organize the Saturday demonstration, said she hopes the government will take notice of how serious they are about preserving their historic community.

“People are really, really scared ever since Metrolinx dropped this bomb on us, but we're fighting back,” she said.

A joint statement by Thornhill MP Peter Kent and conservative candidate Melissa Lantsman issued June 7 strongly urged Metrolinx to abandon its “ill-thought out 'cost-saving' option” and immediately revert to the original plan with stops along Yonge Street.

“The proposed Option 3 does not adequately address the need or desires of our community and is nothing more than Metrolinx trying to pull a fast one,” the statement reads.

Metrolinx insists nothing is set in stone and welcomes community input. President and CEO Phil Verster assured residents at community engagement sessions Metrolinx has the “brightest and best minds” in the industry working on the project. He admitted, however, the agency has never tunnelled under a residential neighbourhood before.

But for Mike Kavouris, who has presented two detailed analyses of what he considers technical and procedural flaws in the plan to the city, vague assurances from Metrolinx to date are merely paying lip service to community concerns.

“It certainly seems like the plan is signed, sealed and just waiting to be delivered,” he said.