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City news
Okhta Center Opponents Accuse Authorities of Foul Play
09.16.2009 15:26

The Okhta Center (Gazprom Tower) Opponents of the Okhta Center (Gazprom Tower) have lost a case in court, but say that further evidence of multiple violations on the part of the developer and city officials came to light during the two-week trial.

On Friday, Judge Lyudmila Golovkina of the Krasnogvardeisky District Court ruled that the demands of the plaintiffs were not to be satisfied. On the same day, City Hall banned an anti-tower picket scheduled for Wednesday.

The Okhta Center’s opponents claim that the developer deliberately organized the recent public hearing for 9 a.m. on Sept. 1, which is celebrated as the Day of Knowledge in Russia, when schools and universities open after the summer holidays, in order to make it difficult for protesters to attend the event. They say that in their haste to secure that date, officials and the developer, ODTs Okhta, violated a number of laws and regulations, rendering the hearing invalid.

The subject of the hearing was the exemption of the planned tower, a 396-meter skyscraper, from the city’s law on height regulations that only allows 100-meter tall buildings in that area. ODTs Okhta claims that it has not broken any laws or regulations.

The tower is to house the headquarters of Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of the Russian state energy giant Gazprom.

Yevgeny Kozlov, chairman of the coordinating committee of the Movement of Civil Initiatives (DGI), and Tatyana Krasavina, the leader of preservationist movement Okhtinskaya Duga, filed a lawsuit against the Krasnogvardeisky District’s Land Use and Development Commission (KZZ) on Aug. 27 – before the hearing took place – asking the court to declare the preparatory work done for the Sept. 1 public hearing by this state body “illegal” and consequently, to cancel the hearing.

“We found out that no proper session of the District’s Land Use and Development Commission was held on Aug. 12; there was only a meeting led by [the district’s head Maria] Shcherbakova,” Kozlov said by phone on Monday.

“There was an attempt to present a dubious photocopy from the City’s Commission register, which could be qualified as attempted forgery. The City’s Commission gave the documentation to the District’s Commission on Aug. 19, rather than on Aug. 12, as they had tried to convince us.”

The plaintiffs received proof that the developer’s documentation was incomplete, since it lacked a conclusion regarding the visibility evaluation of the object and its effect on views of the city, which by law should have been completed before the public hearings were held, Kozlov said.

The plaintiffs also alleged that the public was not informed about the hearing, which was held at Hotel Karelia, properly and in good time – 20 days in advance, as required by law. A notice was published anonymously in the Nevskoye Vremya newspaper’s Russian-Georgian war anniversary special, which was published on the morning of Aug. 13 – 19 days before the hearing. The developer, however, claimed a number of newspapers had been distributed on Aug. 12.

“We found out how they distributed the paper,” Kozlov said. “Giving away two packs of newspapers at the Okhta tram stops doesn’t mean that the public was officially informed about the hearing.”

Kozlov said all the materials that the opponents gained access to during the course of the trial will be used in letters to the Prosecutor, the City’s Land Use and Development Commission and the Legislative Assembly’s deputies as well as further lawsuits.

“As well as all this, I think all this information made it clear to many citizens how such questions are being solved [in St. Petersburg], and how the city and district authorities and Okhta Center regard citizens’ rights and the law,” he said.

Kozlov said he was not surprised by the court’s decision.

“The decision was totally predictable and expected,” he said. “The difficulty of cases like this lies in proving that in breaking the law, they also violated our civil rights.”

The full written verdict will be given to the plaintiffs on Tuesday. Kozlov said that after studying it, they may appeal.

• City Hall banned an anti-tower picket on Friday. The Protect St. Petersburg coalition, which includes a number of pressure groups such as Living City and Okhtinskaya Duga, had informed City Hall, as required by law, that they would picket the City’s Town-Planning Committee (KGA) and Committee for the Use and Preservation of State Monuments (KGIOP) from 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday.

City Hall cited “planned garden work” as the reason for the ban, and suggested the protesters could gather in the Chernyshevsky Gardens, which are located in a different district of the city.

The Okhta Center will also be the focus of a major annual rally, March for the Preservation of St. Petersburg, due to be held on Oct. 10.

News source: The St. Petersburg Times
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