Zoning in on controversy: Waterloo property appeal

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The disputed property, outlined in red, is surrounded by low density residential areas. Courtesy Region of Waterloo

Currently occupied by a single detached house and a two-car garage on the cusp of the Laurelwood neighborhood, 510 Erbville Road was unanimously approved by the Waterloo city council to be re-zoned into a Muslim prayer centre by the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC). The approval was the result of five years of persistence.

However, the Waterloo West Community Association (WWCA) from the local and surrounding neighborhoods of Laurelwood, Laurel Creek, and Columbia Forest, raised over $35,000 to appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Although the WWCA has declined an interview, Asif Manzoor, the Waterloo Chapter Head of MAC, spoke on the issue.

Its adjacent main road is also busy daily and there is no connection with the residential neighborhood. He also said that no opposingmember at the initial public meeting shared boundaries with the property. Previously under an agricultural status, the location would become a green space and institutional area.

“We were very confident in our application right from the beginning,” said Manzoor. “We have sacrificed a lot of land to be turned into a green space. Almost two thirds of the land will not be used by us and will stay as a green space.”

The prayer centre is planning to accommodate, on average, 20 to 25 individuals every day.

The City of Waterloo’s zoning by-laws are instituted through their “official plan”, which “supports the overall goal of achieving a healthy community built on the principles of diversity and adaptability, accessibility and equity, connectivity, health and vitality.”

In the community group’s Facebook page under the name “Residents Opposing 510 Erbsville Rd. Rezoning”, members voiced concerns regarding the community impacts of the building’s structure itself. In their justification report, the group proposes that the building be constructed within a commercial area instead. They question the “vague development plan to transform the property into a community centre.”  insist that they are not targeting any race or religion, stating that they “have never opposed and never will oppose [the] Muslim Association of Canada’s intention to use the current house and garage at 510 Erbsville Road as a prayer centre” and that “most of [them] are immigrants [themselves], who serve and contribute to the community.”

However, Manzoor stated that at their public meetings, “people were disruptive. For us, the opposition from the area residence that we are facing was quite unexpected. The property is not on a local side street, it’s on a very busy street … very close to commercial plazas. We were expecting for this to be a rather quick process.”

Manzoor also expressed his appreciation and gratitude for the two professors and three student delegates from the University of Waterloo who presented their support for the prayer centre at their formal hearing.

“I think it’s a very encouraging sign that students want to be in the know of the area politics or happenings of the region,” he said, “we believe that students are the future generation that will be taking care of the community.”

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