Vaughan Citizens Concerned About Synagogues

Published: June 2nd 2010
in News » Local

A home-based synagogue in Thornhill
Pic: file photo

A public hearing on a proposed amendment to the City of Vaughan’s by-law on places of worship held on June 1st attracted over 120 residents representing multiple religions, as well as a handful of homeowners upset over what they see as a lack of enforcement of parking and noise issues.


“This is a planning issue, it’s a zoning issue,” said Ward 5 Councillor Alan Shefman who was present at the meeting and supports the need for the amendment. “We as a matter of course present these proposals in a public hearing to hear from the public their thoughts on the matter.”


Many in attendance were concerned about the proposal’s focus on religious gatherings, including shuffling places of worship, such as the multiple small Orthodox shuls that dot Thorhnill’s residential streets, to main arterial roads in the city, for instance Bathurst Street.


Several of the approximately 100 mostly religious Jews who showed up at the meeting pointed out to Shalom Life that the proposal, drawn up by city planning staff, seemed to unfairly fixate on religious worship, rather than genuine unease about what most agreed were safety and quality of life issues, for people living near residential places of worship.


The main problems: excesses of parked cars that can block roads and problematic noise levels.


“As one of the lawyers pointed out last night, this definition (of religious gatherings) is so broad that it would include banning circumcisions, bar/bat mitzvahs, Torah lectures, and any other religious gathering,” a Thornhill resident who was at the hearing told Shalom Life. “We must make sure that the City understands the dangers involved about even talking about such bans.  Our basic freedom of religion is at stake.”


City councillors say that longstanding complaints from area residents living next to residential places of worship, including “basement synagogues”, have led them to conclude current zoning laws need to be updated.


Shefman said that the current zoning law covering places of worship – by-law 1-88 – needs to be amended as it is out of date.


“What we do as part of our new official plan process is to review and to try to reflect the needs of the community as they exist today,” he said. “It’s an update to try to find a way to help guide people who are of good faith to help them understand a better planning process.”


According to Shefman, the real issue is that zoning needs to be appropriately applied in order to protect neighbourhoods from “institutional infringement.”


The city does not see the issue as being about an individual or a small group of people who have been meeting for many years in their homes for religious needs.


Rather, Shefman pointed out that “it’s the massive infringement in our communities that have taken place in a number of places in the City and in the Ward that we’re interested in.”


“A number of residents appeared last night to talk about what’s happened to them, including issues of health and safety and their enjoyment and access to their homes,” Shefman explained.


Related articles: (home synagogue, Thornhill, city of Vaughan, Shefman, Racco, Vaughan council)

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