Debate on Muslim group's development plans draws a crowd
Vaughan city council chambers and two overflow rooms were packed last night, for a lively debate about plans for an 'urban village' in the heart of Thornhill Woods, a suburb north of Toronto.
The unusually high turnout -- for what was an otherwise routine public planning meeting -- was spurred by a religious undercurrent.
That's because the development proposal comes from a Muslim community organization that already operates the Jaffari Centre mosque on the 30-acre site in the longtime predominantly Jewish area.
The Islamic Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat (ISIJ) would like to build two 17-storey towers and more than 60 townhouses, including retail space, condominiums and assisted living facilities for seniors, at their location on Bathurst Street south of Rutherford Road.
The development will be geared toward the Muslim community, they say, but anyone would be welcome.
"It will be open to everybody," developer Shafiq Punjani said. "In fact, it's something that the Ontario law obviously governs. There is a human rights code in place, and we fully intended to live to the letter of the law."
Shabbir Jaffer, who supports the development plans, told CTV Toronto the optics aren't great.
"It looks like it's pitting Jewish people against Muslim people and yet we have a reputation, our particular Muslim community, of being one of the most civic-minded and best, easiest people to get on with," Jaffer said.
But opponents maintain they'd be against the proposal, no matter who was behind it.
Area resident Rom Koubi chairs the Association to Preserve Thornhill Woods, a group that's campaigning against the proposal, says the opposition has nothing to do with religion.
"The new development, whether it was submitted by them or by any other public constructor that would have wanted to build such neighbourhood in our area, we would have objected in exactly the same way," Koubi.
"It had nothing to do with the fact that it's the Jaffari Centre or any other developer in the area."
Concerns about the proposal aired at the meeting Tuesday included site zoning, design, infrastructure and potential impact on local traffic.
With files from CTV Toronto's Scott Lightfoot