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Forest Grove community protests proposed Burnaby Mountain gondola with chalk art

It isn't your typical form of protest, but it is a colourful way to get a message across.
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It isn't your typical form of protest, but it is a colourful way to get a message across.

Forest Grove residents who oppose the proposed gondola to Simon Fraser University have marked the part of Forest Grove Drive that falls under the proposed route with chalk messages.

Andrea Paetow said the group has written its "No Gondola" message in large chalk lettering on the route twice since TransLink began hold its public open houses on the project.

"We try what we can, to get more awareness around the community," she said in a phone interview Thursday.

She was hoping to get out and do it again this week but said it would depend on the weather.

It appears to be working, Paetow said, because those who stop to talk to them while they write their message often don't know about the gondola, or didn't take it seriously, she said.

"They thought, it's got to be a joke," Paetow said.

While she doesn't live directly under the proposed route, she does live in the neighbourhood, she said, and believes it will affect the whole mountainside.

"Going over residences is definitely a concern," Paetow said, adding she doesn't oppose the concept of a gondola, but thinks it shouldn't go over homes.

She'd like TransLink to more thoroughly consider other options with less impact on the Forest Grove community, she said, adding there were a number of options presented in the open house materials that should be looked at more closely.

"That 20-metre right of way makes quite an impact," she said of the route.

There are safety and environmental concerns, Paetow said, such as the possibility of towers in the conservation spots between neighbourhoods.

With Gaglardi Way to the north and Lougheed Highway to the south, as well as industrial development in the area, the gondola would be another thing affecting the mountainside community, she said.

"I find it a bit much."

The developers and planners of UniverCity, at the top of Burnaby Mountain, want to sell units and have been promoting the gondola as a potential perk for that community, she said, but they aren't thinking of the people underneath.

The SFU Community Trust, which is in charge of overseeing the UniverCity project, presented a preliminary feasibility study to TransLink and is promoting the idea.

Paetow said she was also concerned about the focus on the gondola project when the much-needed Evergreen Line hasn't even begun.

The No Gondola group held a meeting in the Forest Grove neighbourhood on June 23, to gauge community response to the project and connect with residents concerned about the issue. The small community space was so full that people stood in the rain just outside the door to hear what the organizers had to say.

The group collected feedback forms from community members to submit to TransLink during its public consultation period. Public feedback on the project was collected until June 30.

TransLink had not announced a decision on whether to move forward with the gondola project, following the public consultation, before press time.

"There is a strong business case - that hasn't changed," Ken Hardie, spokesperson for TransLink, said earlier in June.

He added it still needs to be determined whether the cost of the gondola system would be worthwhile compared with the current transit buses running up the mountain.

The cost of the proposed budget for the project increased from $69 million - which was indicated by the initial feasibility study conducted by the Community Trust years ago - to $120 million.

The new amount is a much more realistic and current assessment, he added.

TransLink began meeting with stakeholders in the area last fall, and awarded the business case study to consulting firm CH2M Hill last winter.

A three-rope gondola system - like the Peak 2 Peak gondola on Whistler Mountain - was the one recommended by the business case study.

The recommended route was the one that would run from Production Way SkyTrain Station to the campus.

The gondola would run about 40 metres above the ground and tree canopy, over the Forest Grove neighbourhood, according to TransLink.

The line would consist of five towers, up to 70 metres tall, to support the cables. Tower locations have not yet been determined.

At this time, there are approximately 25,000 transit trips taken by riders on Burnaby Mountain daily, according to TransLink's data, with that number expected to increase to 40,000 by 2030.

The gondola could possibly transport 3,000 or more people per hour, in half the time of the current bus trips, TransLink's backgrounder on the project stated.

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