MISSISSAUGA — Objection doesn’t mean discrimination, Mayor Hazel McCallion told the hundreds of people who came out to City Hall on Monday evening for a public meeting on a proposed 18,000-sq.-ft. Islamic centre in Meadowvale.
McCallion told the crowd that the critical issue is parking and cited examples of several places of worship in Mississauga – including mosques and also churches – where parking is simply out of control. The mayor said parking problems have even occurred at her church in Streetsville and it’s due to the changing nature of places of worship where those institutions are drawing people from across a city where, in the past, they typically had parishioners just from within their own neighbourhood.
The mayor said it bothers her that people of faith will park their cars illegally and haphazardly when they can’t find spaces at their place of worship. She noted that when the City tagged and towed a number of vehicles near a mosque on South Sheridan Way due to parking issues, the matter was brought before the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
“Please don’t mention discrimination in my presence because it’s not that,” said McCallion.
There was a great deal of interest in the proposal and Council Chambers were so packed many people sat in the aisles or had to stand. City officials had to open another room with a televised link to Council Chambers to accommodate all the residents who turned out.
Officials with the Meadowvale Islamic Centre applied to the City of Mississauga in August for rezoning permission to build the centre on properties located at 6496 and 6508 Winston Churchill Blvd. If approved, the centre will have prayer areas for men and women, classrooms and a medium-sized gymnasium for youth.
They plan to build 115 parking spaces. The proposed two-storey building will also include a dome about 60 feet high with a minaret that will reach 88 feet.
Glen Broll, a partner with Glen Schnarr and Associates, who are representing the landowners, said they purchased the land with the goal of building the centre as they don’t have a permanent home to worship. He conceded it’s a contentious issue for the community but they’re working to fit in.
“(We’re) trying to integrate this into the neighbourhood and I think we’ve achieved that,” said Broll.
Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito said she’s received more than 500 letters and emails about the project and the vast majority were opposed to it. The councillor said the biggest concern she hears is parking and that, based on past experience, the 115 spaces will not be enough.
Other concerns she’s heard include the safety of students in the area and that the height and size of the building are too great. The councillor said she’s worked with the landowners to try and find another location that would be more “suitable” for a building of that size.
Saito said her concerns about the project aren’t about what religion will be practiced in it.
“I’ve been asked if this was a synagogue, or a church, if I would have the same concerns and my answer is yes,” said Saito.
Tahir I. Qureshi, trustee and chairperson with Meadowvale Islamic Centre, previously told The News his organization has been forced to rent space in Mississauga to host their prayer and religious services or if they wish to have classes or activities for their members. The goal is to build the centre so there will be a location in Meadowvale for their community to use.
Meanwhile, Ward 7 Councillor Nando Iannicca said he wasn’t sure why there was a fuss being made about the parking because the centre’s 115 space would meet the threshold according to the City’s formula for determining the appropriate number of spaces.
Some residents spoke in favour of the proposal, saying it would give them a place of worship in their own community, would allow them to learn about their religion and would be accessible for those in Meadowvale without access to a car. Those opposed argued about parking issues and traffic along Winston Churchill Blvd. and took issue with the size of the building.
City planning staff still have to take a position on the rezoning request and will return with their decision at a later date.