Islamic Society of Willowdale decries application denial

What the Islamic Society of Willowdale calls a big misunderstanding has it crying foul over the denial of its application for zoning and site plan approval.

Scarborough Community Council voted against the application, made in 2009, on Sept. 12.

Jim Qureshi, vice-president of the centre, said the survey carried out by the city — which claimed the mosque saw traffic of between 150 and 300 people — is “totally false.”

“We average 100, 130 [people] maximum [and] the mosque can hold 150 people for prayer,” he said. “Each person needs a two-by-four foot area to pray … They sit on the floor and have to bow down. If you calculate, there’s no way you can fit [300].

“But that’s the misunderstanding they have somewhere. They did not realize how many people [come].”

According to the refusal report, the city denied the application because the mosque’s plans to expand its parking spaces would be an overdevelopment of the site.

The mosque, located near Victoria Park Avenue and Navaho Drive, currently has 12 parking spaces, which it proposed to increase to 23 with an additional seven spots on the street behind the building if it was a busy day.

The city also feels increased paving would not fit in with the character of the area surrounding the 19th-century farmhouse.

“They’re rejecting our side plan (parking plan) because they say we must leave some areas at the back for landscaping … and it won’t look like a 19th-century building but a 20th-century [one],” Qureshi said.

“I don’t see any issue with Casa Loma or any heritage building,” he added, “[and] they have a lot of parking around.”

In April last year, residents raised issue with the application at a community consultation. They cited increased traffic, loss of trees and pedestrian safety as some of the reasons they were against the mosque.

But Qureshi does not see how the mosque, which has operated since 2007, disturbs anybody. On most days, he said, there are about five cars. Cars that do come in will usually park for no more than half an hour, and most people walk.

He added the mosque still sees resistance from residents.

“A lot of residents on the back side, just to [prove] a point … park their car on the road instead of the driveway to make the street look full,” he said. “You did not buy the road, my friend, you bought the house. The road is for the average taxpayer. We’re not parking there the whole night.”

The mosque will now try to convince the Ontario Municipal Board to approve its application. Qureshi said he believes if the Society can convince the OMB about the number of people actually coming in, they have a chance. But he said the mosque is not happy with the process.

“The city should have looked into [things] more seriously but I think they did not bother,” Qureshi said. “I’m really sorry and disappointed for that.”

Members of the Scarborough Community Council could not be reached for comment.