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As homes are demolished, this Coquitlam group is speaking out for residents

Much of Oakdale is being knocked down for new condos, apartments; What will life be like for those who stay behind?

A Coquitlam neighbourhood association that started over a quarter of a century ago to "build community" is now on the front lines of a vast transformation.

Where once the Oakdale Neighbourhood Association members were organizing neighbour days and erecting trail and park signs, the group is now acting as liaison between residents, developers and the city.

"A third of the neighbourhood is coming down," said association president Dave Irving, who has been with the group since the beginning.

Where once single-family homes dominated the Coquitlam neighbourhood west of North Road, on the Burnaby, Port Moody borders, the arrival of SkyTrain and Burquitlam Station has spurred development interest in the area.

Irving acknowledged that residents who haven't sold yet or are still living in the area are worried about what will happen when construction starts on all the projects.

Construction cranes going up

"We’ve been trying to meet with the developers and we have a list of things we discuss with them — one is parking, one is safety," said Irving.

Construction cranes have gone up on one tower project, the Alina by Strand, while a hole is being dug for the Elmwood, another highrise tower on nearby Elmwood Street.

Many more projects are in the works or at some stage in the development approval process.

The city's director of development says developers are expected to adhere to a Good Neighbour Agreement to minimize impacts, and staff check sites daily.

But there may be challenges along the way, Andrew Merrill acknowledged.

"We recognize we can’t eliminate all impacts of construction; we know it's disruptive, we want to minimize it to residents as much as possible," he said, noting that the city has to be "mindful" of how sidewalks and roads are closed, for example.

Stuck in a construction zone

Some residents who wish they could have sold out and left already say they are worried about being trapped in the neighbourhood as construction ramps up.

One resident, who asked that his name be withheld, said one of his neighbours won't sell, leaving him stuck.

Meanwhile, real estate agents the Tri-City News spoke to agreed that land assemblies are taking longer to sell because they are more challenging or costly to develop — sometimes due to a holdout homeowner, or because the property is near a creek or subject to changing economic circumstances.

"It’s been the perfect storm to kill development; it got hit on several ways," said Brandon Harding, with NAI Commercial.

Harding said a combination of higher development cost charges, inflation pressures and interest rates have slowed deals.

He's worried how residents will manage over the coming months to years during the construction phase of development in Oakdale.

"It’s not anyone being irresponsible — it’s just the nature of development," said Harding.

"It’s no longer a family-oriented community. [Oakdale} is in the middle of this crazy vast transition and anyone stuck in this purgatory is having to face those challenges, above and beyond the noise and the dust."

Realtor Brian Lam, who has been working with a number of residents in the area, said he also feels for some who haven't been able to sell and move.

Quality of life in jeopardy

He's worried about what their quality of life will be once construction starts on several projects in the area.

"Twenty guys show up with trucks and cars; parking is a concern and it's not safe for residents, it’s not safe for the guys," sad Lam. "People can’t get out of their driveways and the residents are concerned."

Henry McQueen, vice-president of Qualex-Landmark, with two projects in the area, told the Tri-City News that he expects his contractors to be sensitive to residents' concerns.

McQueen hopes empty lots can host trades parking while other concerns, such as noise, dust and traffic, can be dealt with through timing and coordination.

For example, flaggers can be employed so trucks backing up don't have to beep, and quieter equipment can be used and tools can be turned off when not in use to help cut down on noise.

McQueen promised that developers would work together to ensure that two roads to get out of the neighbourhood aren't closed at the same time.

He said residents should contact contractors directly if there's a problem.

McQueen also praised the work of the Oakdale Neighbourhood Association to bring people together to discuss issues, including making sure dirty water doesn't flow into Stoney Creek.

"The Oakdale Neighbourhood Association is being really clear about what’s happening with them," said McQueen, adding: "They are quite consistent."

What the future holds

For the neighbourhood association, it will be a busy several years as Oakdale transforms from a sleepy suburban community to a dense urban neighbourhood.

Irving worries that the group will not be able to sustain itself as people move away — unless newcomers in towers and apartments take an interest and join to promote neighbourliness, which was the group's original aim.

"You're losing two-thirds of the people who would participate. We'll see how it works with new people coming to join."