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City news, 03.08.2004 11:19

Residents Ready to Fight On

human_rights PETERSBURG TIMES

By Vladimir Kovalev

STAFF WRITER

After three years of unsuccessful attempts to stop a fill-in construction project in a culturally important park, a group of St. Petersburg citizens from a nearby building says it is ready to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights with the support of Groza ('Thunderstorm') a city-wide public legal rights organization.

The construction of a new building on 60A Ulitsa Lyonya Golikova in the Krasnoselsky District will resume Nov. 1 after it was postponed in June by the City Hall Investment and Tender Commission. At that time the commission recommended that the project developer, 47th Trust, "solve arguments with local residents," the residents group said.

Sergei Suglobov, head of the residents group said he no longer trusts city authorities after everything he and his neighbors have been through since 2001, when the project was initiated.

"All this was started in 2001 when [then] Govornor [Vladimir] Yakovlev signed a decree to reduce the part of Alexandrino Park which is under UNESCO protection. It is protected because there are summer houses located there which belonged to well-known 18th century figures such as General Sheremetyev, General Vorontsov and so on," Suglobov said in a telephone interview Monday.

"It's not only us who will lose something, but all city residents. This park is a protected area for public use. But after the decree was signed, all that is protected are lakes," he said.

47th Trust has already chopped down 150 bushes in the area and installed a fence in preparation for construction there, Suglobov said.

On July 23 Governor Valentina Matviyenko submitted to City Hall a decree to abolish her previous decision on the construction, which was then handed over to the Investment and Tender Commission by Alexander Vakhmistrov, head of the Construction Committee, Suglobov said.

"That's why there's a question over who rules the city - Govornor Matviyenko or the construction lobby. During the last [gubernatorial] elections I didn't vote for anyone. It's because I don't believe authorities any more," he said.

47th Trust was not available for comment Monday.

"The European Court of Human Rights seems to be the only option city residents have left to help them resist the practice of fill-in projects in conditions where the local construction lobby has such and influence in local courts," said Groza representatives.

"Most of the lawsuits filed on the same issue were lost by residents and this is not a big surprise," said Alexei Smirnov, head of Groza in a telephone interview Monday.

"Courts act according to judicial facts which are papers with stamps and it is very easy for construction companies to obtain such papers. If an expert opinion costs $15,000, citizens are not able to collect such money, but for a construction company this is nothing," he said.

There are up to 25 lawsuits currently in city courts against fill-in construction projects and 7 cases have already been lost, Smirnov said.

One of the rare successful cases occurred at the end of July, when a group of citizens from a building located on 10th Line, a street on Vasilyevsky Ostrov, succeeded in postponing a construction in their yard until their case is heard in September. Authorities of Vasilyevsky Ostrov District administration ordered a construction company to stop its activity in the yard after meeting with angry residents and their lawyer.

At the end of July Groza initiated a four-month long action plan against fill-in construction projects. Its main goal is to collect information from all of such "conflict zones" in the city and pass them to local courts. Cases that go against residents will be passed to the European Court of Human Rights, Groza representatives say.

Groza has started spreading orange ribbons among the population and asking people to hang them out of their windows to demonstrate against fill-in projects.

"We've already handed out about 1,000 ribbons and are going to spread another thousand this week," Smirnov said.

"They have been seen in some of the yards around Malookhtinskyi Prospekt. In some places ribbons hang from almost every window," he said.

On Friday over a dozen people gathered near City Hall Housing Committee offices with posters displaying slogans such as "Investment is not a reason for lawlessness," "Fill-in projects are theft of our land," "St. Petersburg is not a concentration camp," and others.

City Hall had no comment either on the protest on Friday or on the case in Krasnoselsky District.

"Yes, the situation has existed for quite a while, but we have no comment at this moment. It's because Valentina Ivanovna [Matviyenko] is on holidays. In two weeks time we could comment, depending on how the situation has developed," said Andrei Kibitov, spokesman for the governor in a telephone interview Monday.

News source: www.times.spb.ru

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