Eastway Gardens residents left a public meeting on Wednesday night with scant new details about the wall that’s to be built in the coming weeks between their neighbourhood and the city’s sprawling light-rail maintenance yard on Belfast Road.
Questions about the wall’s height, colour and ability to quell noise emanating from the plant where LRT vehicles are currently being assembled all went unanswered, leaving many in the audience of several dozen frustrated.
“We’re shocked; we have no new information whatsoever,” said Stuart Fraser, whose home on Avenue P overlooks the strip of land where the wall is to be built.
It was a feeling shared by Alta Vista Coun. Jean Cloutier. “We’re disappointed that we’re not further along,” he said.
The councillor pressed Chris Swail, the city’s rail planning chief, on whether residents would still get to have their say on what the wall will ultimately look like. “When will we get those answers or are we, forgive me, going through the process?” he asked.
Swail admitted the design work isn’t done, but pledged to consult residents once it is. “Certainly we’re not putting up something the city’s not satisfied with and we haven’t brought back to you and the residents,” he said. “We’re going to do our best not to build an ugly wall.”
Swail also acknowledged that expanding the facility so soon has come as a surprise to many in the community. “The last thing this community wants to hear is that we’re planning more construction because it’s disruptive,” he said.
Questions about the wall, as well as plans to tear out a 458-metre earthen berm to make room for new maintenance bays and an expanded vehicle storage shed were first raised at a previous meeting Cloutier’s office organized in March, several weeks after city council approved the second phase of the LRT project. That approval included plans for the $100-million expansion of Belfast Yard.
The LRT maintenance and storage plant was built to store the first fleet of Alstom Citadis LRT vehicles. But late last year, the city and RTG negotiated a new memorandum of understanding that provides a fixed price of $492 million for 38 additional vehicles, the plant expansion and on-board train control and communications equipment.
RTG intends to continue assembling vehicles and complete most of Belfast expansion before the Confederation Line opens next year and the yard begins normal daily operations.
Deanna Derby, who said she’s heartbroken at the thought of a wall looming over her Avenue P backyard, asked if it was even necessary. She wondered if Belfast Yard was really that loud.
It is, according to RTG spokeswoman Kathryn Keyes, because maintenance will often happen overnight when trains are not in service.
The wall, whatever it will look like, will protect neighbours from “sleepless nights,” Swail added.
Given the lack of answers provided on Wednesday, Cloutier promised to hold another public meeting.
“We’ll have as many as we need to get the answers residents require and I require,” he said.