Hello Islamic mosque, bye-bye Taoist temple?
A Taj Mahal-like mosque is in the works for Markham’s 16th Avenue after the town’s development services committee gave the project a green light Tuesday.
The proposal from the Islamic Society of Markham is to build a 28,000-sq. ft. mosque just east of St. Brother Andre Catholic School.
The mosque will accommodate more than 500 worshippers and will include 188 parking spaces.
It measures 34 feet in height for the main building, 70 feet for the top of the dome and 135 feet for the minaret (the tall spire).
The overall design of the mosque was well received by town councillors.
“It resembles the Taj Mahal in India,” said Regional Councillor Joe Li.
The mosque, estimated to cost between $6.5 million to $7 million, will be the second in Markham after the Islamic Society’s Jam’e Masjid on Denison Street, said Shafique Malik, president of the Islamic Society.
Mr. Malik said the new mosque is needed because the current one is at capacity with about 400 members and because more Muslims are living in northern Markham.
He said a group of about 50 regulars has been gathering for daily prayers at Markham Museum for the last two years.
“All the Muslims in Markham should be very excited about this, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a mosque,” Mr. Malik said. “It’s a big achievement for the community. It’s in the middle, a historic area of the town.” Mr. Malik said while there are concerns about potential traffic congestion and future parking overflow during big events like Ramadan, a new traffic light has been proposed to be erected at 16th Avenue and Williamson Road and the Catholic school has agreed to help accommodate parking if there is overflow.
Mr. Malik said they have been renting the school space for various events and that they have a good relationship with the Catholic school board.
Meanwhile, during the same meeting, an award-winning architect’s design of a proposed Taoist temple in Markham was ruled out of character with the community by town councillors.
The contentious proposal three years in the making had from the outset drew opposition from the public largely because it would also offer Taoist tai chi classes as part of the religion.
While that issue is still a concern for some, the application to build the Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism on Steeles Avenue between Bayview Avenue and Leslie Street was rejected in a 11-2 vote based on a built form that many residents say is incompatible with the neighbouring residential area.
Designed by Brigitte Shim of Shim-Sutcliffe Architects in Toronto, the elevated one-storey, flat-roof temple measures less than 3,500 sq. ft. in size and 26 feet in height.
The cantilevered (fixed end beam) building is supported by seven sets of columns to allow for 30 parking spaces and circulation beneath the structure.
“We see this as a sacred space, a place for worship in a neighbourhood,” said Ms Shim, who has been on the University of Toronto’s architecture, landscape, and design faculty since 1988.
“As an architect, Steeles Avenue is a neighbourhood in transition … this project is oriented to Steeles Avenue, it does not impact the residential neighbourhood,” Ms Shim added.
She said three years for this scale of project is “really unbelievable”.
While the town’s development services commissioner Jim Baird has indicated the proposed form is in compliance with the existing building setbacks, height, lot coverage standards of the residential zoning and that there are several examples of other modernistic buildings in the community, many believe a building “on stilts” doesn’t fit in to a residential area.
“Many residents feel it’s a square pig in a round hole, that they are trying to squeeze parking underneath,” said Thornhill Ward 1 Councillor Valerie Burke, who moved to deny the application and was seconded by Thornhill Ward 2 Councillor Howard Shore.
Ms Burke said most residents are not convinced there won’t be traffic overflow on their streets.
But Adam Brown, the applicant’s lawyer, argued that just because people don’t appreciate the architectural design doesn’t mean it isn’t compatible.
Plus, cantilevers aren’t stilts, said Chris Farano of Fung Loy Kok Institute.
“Built form, to us, is irrelevant here,” Mr. Farano said. “They don’t want us there.”
Asked why they wouldn’t consider relocating the project elsewhere in Thornhill or Markham — something Mayor Frank Scarpitti hoped the applicant would agree to — Mr. Farano said it’s about a point of principle for Fung Loy Kok. “If we are out of sight, we are out of mind,” he said. “It’s a classic case of nimbyism.”