Yasaman Mohandesi and her family are heartbroken watching trees being cut in front of their home near Mundy Park, the largest park in Coquitlam, about a 45-minute drive east of Vancouver.
"These trees have a lot of value to us, to the environment, to the wildlife and to the growing number of citizens in our community," said Mohandesi. Her mother is in tears.
The trees are being cut as part of the city's Austin Works Yard Renewal Project, which is sparking concern among advocates and neighbours over what they describe as a lack of transparency from the city.
The Austin Works Yard, adjacent to Mundy Park, is home to some of the city's municipal services, including roads, water, sewer and solid waste operations. Construction is underway to improve some of its facilities, which the city says have reached their end of life and require replacement.
About one hectare of land adjacent to the park will be cleared to make room for the expansion, while 25 trees in Mundy Park will be cut to accommodate a new trail — replacing the ones that currently pass through the yard's lot — and to ensure public safety, said Lanny Englund, the city's general manager for parks, recreation, culture and facilities.
Improvements being made to the Austin Works Yard include a new building, storage area and more parking space.
Tree cutting concerns
The city says the bulk of the project is taking place within the boundaries of the yard and other than the realignment of trails, the expansion will not extend into Mundy Park.
However, Mohandesi is concerned the construction will affect existing trees in the park.
"With the climate crises we are facing today, city councils should be more aware ... how much our trees mean to our environment and ecosystem," she said.
Englund says the city has worked with a landscape architect, professional forester and biologists to find solutions to minimize impact to the trees.
He says for every tree removed, one will be replanted in Mundy Park and the neighbourhood to maintain tree canopy cover.
'We want a public hearing'
Eve Gauthier, a member of the Tri-City Green Council who lives near the park, says the expansion is changing land use and deserves a hearing under the Local Government Act.
"Whether it's for the park or for the city, they're changing the land use on that section of land. And therefore, it is a community's right to have a public hearing with proper notification on that," she said.
"We want them to stop, we want a public hearing."
Mohandesi says she is frustrated residents did not get a say before the tree cutting started.
"My house is right by the park ... the city had no sense to consider that there are people living in that neighbourhood."
According to the city, the expansion is taking place on Austin Works Yard property, requiring no changes to zoning or land use — and therefore does not require a public hearing.
Gautheir and Mohandesi also refer to a 1993 referendum where residents voted to preserve the park's forests, and a bylaw that designates the forested portions of Mundy Park as an urban forest prioritizing public's use and enjoyment, management and conservation.
But Englund says the 1993 Mundy Park Forest Dedication Bylaw does not cover the Austin Works Yard property.
On its website, the city notes there are no visual identifiers indicating the park's boundaries, while portions of the Mundy Park trails cross over into the yard's boundary.
Better urban forest management needed, says conservation group
The Burke Mountain Naturalists, a conservation group in Coquitlam, says it has had discussions with the city on how the community can be part of mitigation efforts and tree planting initiatives for the expansion.
However they are still concerned about the continued loss of forest lands and wildlife habitat in local urban areas, they say.
"It is increasingly important that land management decisions incorporate the principles of a more holistic or ecosystem-based approach to decision-making," Victoria Otton, a member and former president of the group, said in an email statement.
The group is strongly encouraging municipalities in the Tri-Cities and Metro Vancouver to adopt a more proactive and comprehensive approach to urban forest management.
Meanwhile, the new trails at Mundy Park will be complete by this summer, and construction work on the yard is expected to last until 2024, the city says.