September 13, 2011: Vaughan Council meeting

On September 13, 2011, a delegation of Concord West residents attended a meeting of the Vaughan Municipal Council (Committee of the Whole), in order to address, in particular, item 33 on the agenda: the proposed Terms of Reference for the preparation of the City of Vaughan Concord GO Centre Secondary Plan.  As the readers of this website are well aware, the original plan for the Concord GO Centre proposes the destruction of the Concord West Greenspace – a natural heritage land and ecological niche of hydrological importance (for the Upper Don and its regeneration) that has been enjoyed by the community for generations – by making it the location of an intermodal GO/Metrolinx transportation hub. The Concord West Community is intent on securing, in the Secondary Plan, a change of location for this planned hub.

Before the start of the meeting, the Concord West delegation demonstrated in front of City Hall, carrying signs of protest against the proposed destruction of the Greenspace.

The discussion of item 33 in Council began with a deputation by Dr. Paulo Correa, Chair of the CWRAHC, who expressed the community’s objections to several passages in the draft Terms of Reference whose wording suggested an acceptance of the hub location proposed by the Ministry of Transportation, and neither left the door open for an evaluation of alternatives nor was consistent with the prior stated and unanimous commitment of Vaughan Council to support the position of Concord West.   To quote from Dr. Correa’s deputation:  “I suggest to you that on this business of location, either you, gentlemen and ladies, stick to your guns and tell unequivocally the Ministry that the location will not be on the south side – as your resolution of February actually stated – or that, if you are going to put in language that permits some form of an alternative evaluation, that this language be clear, and that it be dependent on the presence of a study.”

Andrew Holownych, a Greenbelt Campaigner for Sierra Club Ontario and Assistant to the Ontario Sierra Club Director , graciously took the time to come to the Council meeting and deliver a deputation on behalf of Sierra Club Ontario.   Mr. Holloway reminded Council of the importance of preserving the Concord West Greenspace, stressing that it is “a natural habitat of many species of plants, birds and animals”, including “at least two endangered species”, a crucial link to the Bartley Smith Greenway, “where the Greenway is at its narrowest and winds down the West Don River”, and the only remaining green breathing-space for the Concord West community.  The proposed hub, Mr. Holownych stated, “is supposed to serve a not-yet-existing assumed population projected to appear, in the future, north of Highway #7. Therefore it would be logical to locate the hub north of Highway #7.”  In addition, “the construction of this hub on the south side would also directly affect the headwaters of the West Don River – a critical watershed for the area.”   In the conclusion of his deputation, Mr. Holownych asserted that “Sierra Club Ontario will continue in its support for the Concord West community to keep important greenspaces in the Greenbelt safe from development.”

Ms. Silvana Galloro, Secretary of the Concord West Ratepayers Association, read a letter of support for Concord West from Mr. Sam Ciccolini, a prominent Vaughan resident and businessman, Chair of the Vaughan Health Care Foundation, recipient of the Italian Star of Solidarity Medal, the Order of Ontario, the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for exceptional contribution to public service, and owner of several businesses including Masters Insurance Limited.   Mr. Ciccolini’s letter, addressed to Mayor Bevilacqua, read in part: “I would like to express to you and Council of my staunch support for the Concord West Community and its position regarding the location of the current projected GO/Metrolinx Hub/parking lot.  The Hub/parking lot should without a doubt be located on the north side  of Highway #7 where it has access to major roads rather than eventually spill into the subdivision just north of us.  Council approved this station on the north side of #7 and should be building there accordingly.” “I believe the proper negotiation with the Ministry of Transportation should be fruitful in relocating this Parking Lot and make the bureaucrats understand the impact this will have in our area from all aspects, be it Congestion of Traffic or be it disruption of daily activities of all families and businesses of the entire area.”

Councillor Sandra Racco moved for a deferral of the approval of the Terms of Reference to allow the Concord West community organizations to meet with the Commissioner of Planning John MacKenzie and City staff, to try to come up with  a mutually acceptable wording of the document.  Mayor Bevilacqua seconded the motion, stating: “[…] I must say, on this particular issue, the Concord West group has been extremely clear.  I mean, perhaps one of the clearest that I’ve ever heard. […] There’s a great opportunity here to come together for further discussions.  Commissioner,  am I to understand that you will make yourself available and your team available to have a number of discussions on this issue?   Because the position of Council is very clear on this issue.  Members of Council, I even remember during the past election campaign, left no doubt about where we stood and it’s very consistent with the position taken by Concord West and I think, from an integrity point of view, we need to accommodate and find a resolution to this issue in a very effective and efficient manner.”

Councillor Deb Schulte, who chaired the meeting, made some closing remarks before entertaining Councillor Racco’s motion – saying, in part: “[…] The EA for the 407 Transitway, and what came up out of that, was very much a ‘transit first’ approach.  I think what we’re looking for is a community approach and if you do read the Terms, it does seem […] very prescriptive and I can understand why the community is concerned.  […] I think Council’s intent was to have that opportunity to keep it open so we could see what might work best for us, as a community, as we develop that area, and not just what worked best for the 407 Transitway.  And, I guess, looking at this with an eye to the community, it may seem that we haven’t gone that route.”  She then put Councillor Racco’s motion – to defer the approval of the Terms of Reference – to a vote, and the motion carried unanimously.

On a slightly different but not unrelated topic, we would like to note that in the auditorium of the new Council Chamber in the new Vaughan City Hall (the City Hall on which so many millions of dollars were spent in excess of what was planned) the audience  is obliged to walk up and down a dangerously ill-designed staircase – narrow, steep and without any balustrade.  In addition, the auditorium has atrociously bad acoustics, causing the audience to miss much of the proceedings.

[Press coverage of this event by Kim Zarzour:  “Vaughan residents fight back“,  in YorkRegion ; and  “Concerned residents say transit hub will be ‘wasteland’“, in Thornhill Liberal.]

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