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UPDATED: Controversial Islamic project proposal nixed by Vaughan councillors
Sept. 4, 2014
By Adam Martin-Robbins

A group of Thornhill Woods residents are celebrating a minor victory, but they’re bracing for the possibility of an even bigger, more expensive challenge after councillors voted to quash a controversial proposal for a condominium and townhouse complex around a Muslim community centre.

“We’re happy from one hand, but from the other hand we’re very reserved still,” Rom Koubi, chairman of the Preserve Thornhill Woods Association, a residents’ group set up to oppose the proposed development, said in an interview Wednesday morning.

He noted there’s a still a final council vote to come and the project’s proponents can always appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board.

“We may have won a battle, but we didn’t completely win the war. There’s still a ways to go,” Koubi added. “We hope the applicant will understand that we are wiling to work with them on a new application that will conform with what the neighbourhood is meant to be.”

The Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat of Toronto (ISIJ) applied to build two 17-storey residential towers, 61 townhouses and retail space on its 11- hectare property at 9000 Bathurst St., south of Rutherford Road.

The new Islamic community would be built around the Jaffari Community Centre.

Councillors shot down the proposed development at Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting after a slew of residents came forward to complain that a working group set up to resolve myriad concerns about the proposed development - such as the height of proposed towers, density and increased traffic in the area - wasn’t making sufficient progress.

The residents implored councillors put an end to the ongoing discussions and reject, outright, the proposed development.

They said that since the working group was established back in February the ISIJ has dragged its feet and refused to put forward a “reasonable” proposal given the city’s official plan designates the area for low-rise development.

They also said that it’s stoking religious tensions between Jews and Muslims in the community.

ISIJ representative Shafiq Punjani told councillors, although it faced some hurdles, the working group was making progress and he believed that with continued discussions there was a “good likelihood” the outstanding issues could be resolved.

But councillors unanimously sided with the Thornhill Woods’ residents.

Concord/Thornhill North Councillor Sandra Yung Racco said she couldn’t support the ISIJ’s proposal given the group didn’t say a word back in 2010 when the official plan was put in place designating the area for low-rise development, then came forward four years later with an application that doesn’t conform.

“For that reason, primarily, I have a very difficult time accepting what is being proposed,” she said.

Regional Councillor Deb Schulte also supported quashing the proposed development, noting that the height and density “needs to come down.”

“It’s the right time to send a very strong message,” she said.

If the committee of the whole’s decision is ratified at next week’s city council meeting, the ISIJ can still appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board or come back with an alternative proposal.

ISIJ spokesman Shabbir Jaffer said the organization will “take some time to fully review the council’s actions and decision and then decide on an appropriate course of action.”

He added that ISIJ remains committed to “providing a well-planned additional development to the site of our centre.”