Jaffari Village gets council approval
Residents still concerned over traffic and cultural exclusivity
Over four years after submitting its development application to build a large-scale residential complex and community centre, known as Jaffari Village, at 9000 Bathurst St. in Thornhill Woods, the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat of Toronto (ISIJ) has received unanimous support from Vaughan City Council as it heads to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) for a final decision.
Through these years, the process has been rife with community contention, leading to a significantly scaled-back application and concessions on who would be able to use the future facilities. An April 4 public council meeting discussing this development saw a packed house, with 45 deputations, 124 communications and a petition dating back to January 2014 with over 5,000 signatures from Thornhill residents opposing the application. Most pointed to concerns over the increased traffic congestion in the already-dense area. Proponents of the Jaffari Village development listed the public benefits that would come with this development, including community centre amenities and protected public green space. Some cited the need for a senior living centre in the area. However, lingering skepticism remained over how the development might alter the culture of the community.
“A project with such magnitude is not harmonious,” said Styles Q. Weinberg, a Thornhill resident and member of the Preserve Thornhill Woods Association (PTWA), who spoke at the council meeting. “It will create huge problems.”
Weinberg was concerned about the intent expressed in the original application — that the development would solely serve the Islamic community.
“We have to work hand in hand with PTWA, the ISIJ and all of the variables involved to make sure we can solve problems together as a community and to ensure that polarization is not going to happen,” he said. “It’s a very scary situation because we’re going into uncharted territories. We don’t want to come across as bigots. We don’t want to come across as antiMuslim. This is not our intention or my intention.”
Shafiq Ebrahim, ISIJ vicepresident, admits the original plan was meant to be an exclusive development but is no longer.
“Anybody who wishes to come and live there will be most welcome, so I think we’re beyond that now,” Ebrahim said.
Another resident, Fatima Sajan, is also hoping plans can peacefully move forward. Her parents left Uganda as refugees, settled in Canada and have lived in Thornhill for more than 40 years. Her father was the founding president of the Jaffari community in 1980 and was among the original visionaries planning the future growth of the community.
“This space means so much to us, and we hope our neighbours get to know us better,” she said. “This development will benefit not just the members of ISIJ, but the neighbourhood and city in its growing diversity. Ultimately, we hope the space will eventually serve to provide greater opportunities for inter-community exchange and understanding.”
As for density concerns, Ebrahim said that the ISIJ has worked with city staff over the years to mitigate traffic issues. However, he said, with development comes density.
“Traffic is there,” he said. “It’s always there, whether you build a medical centre or something else. There’s never going to be enough parking; there’s always going to be traffic.”
The decision from council to support the development at the OMB, pending immediate traffic infiltration studies and other conditions, indicated a step forward for the ISIJ, which has owned the land for 20 years.
“The application underwent a thorough review by city staff to be able to come up with a favourable report to the committee of the whole, and we’re absolutely delighted that the councillors approved our plan,” said Ebrahim.
The OMB, now the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, will likely make its decision next year.
We’re going into uncharted territories. We don’t want to come across as bigots. We don’t want to come across as anti-Muslim.”
Shafiq Ebrahim, vice-president of the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat of Toronto