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Coquitlam neighbours spar with city on Austin Works Yard expansion

Residents around Coquitlam's Mundy Park say they've had enough of the park being carved up and trees chopped down for civic facilities.
Austin Works Yard protest
[From left to right] Niloofar "Niloo" Mohandesi, Elizabeth Baldazzi (crouching), Eve Gauthier and environmental advocate Nancy Furness, who has a PhD in plant ecophysiology, are petitioning the City of Coquitlam about the upcoming loss of trees and privacy for residents as a result of the Austin Works Yard expansion project. The 40-year-old city yard, located at Austin Avenue and Mariner Way, has been on council's books for years for an upgrade.

First, the animal shelter was built above Coquitlam’s Austin works yard, on the eastern side of Mundy Park.

Then, a recycling depot was set up nearby.

Now, the municipality is cutting down trees for the $35-million expansion of the works yard.

Neighbours say they’ve had enough.

This week and last, contractors were close to Niloofar Mohandesi’s home on Haversley Avenue — on the western side of the works yard — to tie ribbons on trees and to see how a public path could be carved from the park to Austin Avenue.

“We don’t even know what the colours of the ties mean,” the 15-year resident said.

In an interview with the Tri-City News on Tuesday (Jan. 11), Mohandesi and her neighbours said they’re furious with the city for the lack of consultation before the project was approved by council on Nov. 22.

And although they knew the yard was due for a renewal, they claim city officials failed to notify them properly before the vote took place — and haven’t been forthcoming since.

Their pleas to the mayor and city councillors have fallen on deaf ears, they said.

“It’s obvious they had the contractors lined up months ago,” said Eve Gauthier of the Tri-City Green Council, who lives south of Austin Avenue.

For Mohandesi, the loss of the cedar and Douglas Fir trees means not only a loss of a natural buffer from the lights and sounds of the works yards — which operates 24/7 — but also a loss of privacy and security with the new trail going in.

She fears a drop in her property value due to the exposure.

Recently, her sister, Yasaman Mohandesi, who shares the Haversley Avenue house, launched a petition on to lobby the city to put a stop to the project.

As of this publication (Jan. 12), it had garnered nearly 400 signatures.

Environmental advocate Nancy Furness, who holds a PhD in plant physiology, said that chopping down trees affects the water table and disrupts the ecology for the neighbourhood.

Earlier this month, the Burke Mountain Naturalists raised the alarm in a letter to the Tri-City News, stating its disappointment about disturbing the habitat.

Gauthier takes the issue a step further. She contends the city doesn’t have the right to carve out Mundy Park as it was protected in a referendum in 1993.

On Sunday (Jan. 9), Gauthier sent a stop-work order to the city to request that the trees don’t come down; however, many were felled today.

Lanny Englund, Coquitlam’s general manager of parks, recreation, culture and facilities, said there’s miscommunication circulating in the community.

He told the Tri-City News that the works yard and the land to the west — behind Mohandesi’s home — fall outside of the park boundaries and the upgrade doesn’t require public comment as the land isn’t being rezoned.

“It’s all part of the works yard property,” he stressed. “It’s not protected. There’s no overlap.”

In fact, he stated, the civic institutional designation dates back to 1988 and is in the city’s first official community plan. “The oldest zoning map available is from 1970 and it indicates that this zoning was also in place back then.”

Englund said the final design for Phase 1 of the expansion (the fleet maintenance and workshops’ renewal, as well as the Mundy Park trail realignment) were OK’d unanimously by council and “the project is not stopping.”

And while he was unable to say how many trees are coming down, he confirmed that environmental assessments were carried out.

“This is not a park enhancement,” Englund said. “It’s about making sure we can maintain and continue the critical services to the city residents.”

Last week, in response to another letter to the Tri-City News about the works yard expansion, Englund said the trees taken out for the realignment of the trails will be replanted in Mundy Park, as well as the trees removed from the works yard property.

Still, Mohandesi said she’s upset with the lack of transparency from city hall.

“All they had to do was knock on my door,” she said. “It’s very disrespectful.”