Jaf­fari Vil­lage gets coun­cil ap­proval

Residents still con­cerned over traf­fic and cul­tural ex­clu­siv­ity

Richmond Hill Post - - News | Neighbourh­ood - –– Melissa Wal­lace

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

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