Organizers of a public open house last night weren’t expecting the turnout, or perhaps the passion and interest that the redevelopment of one small plaza evoked in one Thornhill Vaughan community.
The meeting focused on a plaza on Clark Avenue at Hilda Avenue, just west of Yonge Street.
“Thank you for your interest. Frankly, it is overwhelming,” said Jordan Robbins, senior vice president of planning and development for RioCan at the beginning of the meeting at Garnet Williams Community Centre Wednesday night. ”For me, it is unique. In 25 years, I’ve never had a public meeting before.”
Between 200 and 250 people attended the community meeting, said Pamela Levy-Taraday, president of the SpringFarm Ratepayers Association. The meeting had to be moved to a larger room because of the large turnout.
A statement or question from the audience would often be followed by a loud “what”? or “can you repeat that?” because there were no microphones, since organizers had been expecting a small meeting.
Anyone sitting anywhere in the gym other than at the front of the audience often had trouble hearing, not to mention the fact that a large portion of the audience were seniors.
The panel of experts explaining the development or answering question included: David Butterworth, partner/architect with Kirkor Architects and Planners; David McKay, Partner and Vice President at MHBC Planning; and Robbins on behalf of RioCan.
The project seeks to redevelop the current Sobey’s plaza and build an 18-storey condo with retail and a stacked townhouse block. RioCan wants to create an upgraded, walkable shopping community. There was talk that the City of Vaughan would do a traffic study of the area.
The concerns raised by residents were numerous and varied. How will the noise from construction affect the nearby Yorkhill Public School? How will the increased number of students from the new development be handled? What if retailers and services in the plaza want to leave because of the headaches associated with construction? How will traffic be affected?
The architect, planner and RioCan reps tried to answer these questions and concerns, however, as the plan is in its initial stages, several times they used the term “premature” to explain why they could not fully answer.
“This is unusual to stand in front of you and talk about this project, which has not been formulated,” Robbins said.
It is estimated the condo will contain 250 large units and it would be a “quality” rental condo building. As for construction, Butterworth pointed out most builders’ contractors work around normal hours and try to minimize noise.
There have been discussions with Shoppers Drug Mart about staying on the site.
Residents were told the redevelopment would not remove Sobey’s, a popular supermarket, which has a lease that runs until 2030.
At one point, McKay, with MHBC Planning, pointed out that 80 to 90 per cent of the plaza will be maintained.
Elaine Glassman, a woman in the audience, said she moved to the area in the first place because of the convenient location of her eye doctor, podiatrist and other services. If construction makes doing business difficult, this could be a problem, she said.
“They will move somewhere else and never move back,” she said.
When asked what benefits the project will bring, Robbins mentioned improvements to sidewalks and trees.
Someone yelled out from the audience: “we have all that”.
At another point in the meeting, Robbins noted there would be traffic improvements, to which the audience erupted in laughter.
“What planet are you from?” someone yelled out.
Vaughan staff have not yet taken a position and council has not yet voted on the application.
“I don’t know if RioCan understands the centrality of the plaza to our daily life,” Thornhill Councillor Alan Shefman said. “My family grew up in Sobey’s plaza,” he said, pointing out many people have had positive experiences at the coffee shop and other stores there.
“I saw the ideas. My position is clear. I have no problem rehabilitating, making improvements to the plaza. This (plan) is not appropriate for this community,” Shefman said.
While many in the audience were critical of RioCan’s proposal, Shefman pointed out the company went out of its way to present the plan at an open house, rather than going straight to council with the application, an approach which many other companies take.
“RioCan before presenting to the city has gone to the community. I think they deserve credit for that,” Shefman said.
YorkRegion.com | Article: Simone Joseph