“Go back to the drawing board”.
This was the message residents had for RioCan at a public hearing at Vaughan City Hall June 21.
The hearing related to the redevelopment of Springfarm Marketplace, known as Sobey’s Plaza at the corner of Clark and Hilda Avenues in Thornhill.
RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust is the largest real estate investment trust (REIT) in Canada with ownership interests in more than 350 retail properties throughout North America.
Residents packed council chambers, with some having to sit on steps, stand in the aisles or gathered in an overflow room.
During deputations, residents were critical of RioCan’s development application. They critiqued the suggested closing of the plaza’s Hilda Street entrance, the height of the proposed 20-storey condo building and what they said was a failure to abide by Vaughan’s official plan and existing bylaws.
They also lamented the conduct of RioCan, saying the company did not listen to public feedback on proposed changes to the plaza.
After presentations from the public, David McKay, a planning consultant for RioCan said “some aspects, we didn’t realize or look at. We will work together on the proposal,” adding “They (RioCan) are here to stay.”
Meanwhile, one resident complained RioCan does not appreciate the cultural uniqueness of the plaza, which has a kosher supermarket, restaurants, a Jewish bookstore and gift shop and more.
“It has become essential for a way of life,” said Phil Weintraub, adding that this Sobey’s is the only kosher supermarket in the chain and the Second Cup is the only kosher one in that chain.
“RioCan has not taken the time or the effort to learn about the community,” he said. “The uniqueness of the plaza must be respected.”
“Reject the proposal. Send RioCan back to the drawing board,” he said to applause.
Sandra Zeggil has been a Thornhill resident for 27 years and suggested zoning at the site does not allow for a 20-storey condo.
While she is not against re-development, the proposed condo would “overwhelm the plaza”, she said.
The development application violates bylaws and the city’s official plan with its height, density and how far back it is on the property, said Pamela Levy-Taraday, president of the SpringFarm Ratepayers Association. She presented a petition, representing 2,500 residents who are against the current development application.
“The community will accept change. Development must be within official plan and bylaws,” she said.
Long-time resident Fred Winegust is concerned too many parking spots will be lost during construction.
He pointed to a parking survey that found 88 per cent of the people using the plaza take cars to get there.
If it’s inconvenient to shop, people will go elsewhere, he said.
Towards the end of the public hearing Councillor Sandra Racco provided optimism: “There’s no reason RioCan won’t work with you. I believe they will,” she said.
Thornhill Councillor Alan Shefman remarked on the passion of the residents, saying in the 12 years he has been councillor, “I’ve never seen reaction to any proposal like I’ve seen around this. The passion people express about what is being proposed is unique.”
RioCan is ignoring some aspects of the property, Shefman said. The company is ignoring where it is located, that it is an area of mostly single-family homes and it is ignoring the uniqueness of plaza, he said.
For his part, McKay said “the application got a strong reaction,” adding, “I’ve got my work cut out for me.”
Shefman estimates the issue will be brought to the committee of the whole in six to eight months for more discussion.
YorkRegion.com | Article: Simone Joseph