The provincial transit agency has reached a $ 50 million agreement to help fund a new religious and community center in the Thorncliffe Park neighborhood, where it also plans to build a controversial rail yard.

Metrolinx announced on tuesday had struck a deal with the Toronto Islamic Society as part of the Ontario Line project to make major improvements to a facility at 20 Overlea Blvd., owned by the religious group.

Although Metrolinx said the agreement will provide substantial community benefits to the East York enclave, some local advocates criticized the agreement, arguing that it does not meet the needs of the area’s economically underserved residents and will pave the way for the completion of a rail yard for many. they don’t want to.

“Transit has always been a catalyst for construction, development and community growth,” Metrolinx President and CEO Phil Verster said in a statement promoting the agreement. “Helping the Toronto Islamic Society fulfill its vision for a new and larger Islamic Center will bring benefits to the community far beyond the positive impact that Ontario’s new subway line will bring.”

The upgraded center in Overlea will provide new religious facilities, including a mosque and “bigger and better prayer spaces for women,” according to Metrolinx. It will also offer spaces for educational programs, a gymnasium and a 24,000-square-foot business center to which up to 19 organizations and businesses displaced by the transit project will be able to move. Metrolinx said the total value of the deal is $ 49.5 million.

The Metrolinx announcement quoted the leadership of the Toronto Islamic Society as saying that the agreement “will make the dream we have had for our community for the past two decades come true” and “will deliver a bigger and better facility.”

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The new facility will be approximately five times the size of the society’s existing center on Thorncliffe Park Drive, from which the society had already planned to move.

The 15.6-kilometer, $ 11 billion Ontario line will run between Exhibition Place and the Ontario Science Center, and is expected to have a stop at Thorncliffe Park to bring 12,800 residents within easy reach of rapid transit by 2041.

Metrolinx announced in April that it planned to build a vehicle maintenance and storage facility for the line at Thorncliffe. The 175,000-square-meter yard will house 44 trains and will require the demolition of a plaza at 2 Thorncliffe Park Dr., which contains small businesses and community organizations, as well as the nearby Islamic Society Building.

The transit agency said Tuesday it is working with affected businesses to relocate them within the neighborhood, including the popular Iqbal Halal Foods.

Advocacy group Save TPARK opposes the rail yard plan and has accused Metrolinx of dumping an unwanted facility on an economically marginalized and racialized community. About four out of five residents in Thorncliffe Park are visible minorities and nearly half live in poverty.

Save TPARK member Aamir Sukhera criticized the deal with Metrolinx on Tuesday, arguing that it is intended to reduce opposition to the rail yard, but that it will primarily benefit the Toronto Islamic Society, which does not speak for Thorncliffe’s 20,000 residents. and that, to his knowledge, he never consulted the wider community about the terms of the “secret agreement.”

“Adding a basketball court and a few other trinkets is a small price to pay for the massive disruption Metrolinx is inflicting on the heart of our community,” Sukhera said.

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His group wants Metrolinx to relocate the train yard, but said any deal with the agency should have included affordable housing. He also wanted guarantees that the new community facilities will be open to all residents, including non-Muslims.

The Toronto Islamic Society did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Metrolinx rejects claims that it chose Thorncliffe for the rail yard site for social or economic reasons, saying the location was selected after an extensive study determined that it was the only option that could meet technical requirements “while it preserved local jobs. “

Agency spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins said Metrolinx is “working with all parties” at Thorncliffe, and while the agreement with the Islamic society “offers significant benefits to the community,” the agency is “open to considering any other community benefit proposal “.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto reporter covering Star transportation. Contact him by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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