New dispute over Rizari as foundation seeks site to transplant old trees

resh controversy over the construction of a Modern Art Museum by the Vassilis and Eliza Goulandri Foundation in central Athens’s Rizari Park has been sparked by a letter from the foundation asking the municipality of Athens for a site where it can transplant trees that obviously need to be uprooted during the construction work. This is the first indication of the re-emergence of an issue that had been frozen for the last 14 months, since October 2002, in fact, when Article 80 of Law 3057 was published in the Government Gazette granting the foundation 1,205 hectares in Rizari Park. The legislative amendment was considered necessary when local residents took recourse to the Council of State over the preceding ministerial decree. Olympics The new move (which has already mobilized a local environmental protection association) is not only a result of the foundation’s letter. The fencing in of part of the property so the Environment and Public Works Ministry can begin refurbishing the park in view of the Olympic Games has raised another aspect of the issue. The ministry asked the permission of the relevant bodies (Athens Municipality, Rizari Foundation board, Vassilis and Eliza Goulandris Foundation) in order to proceed with work in the park. The site is of particular interest to the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee since the Hilton Hotel opposite will be accommodating Olympic officials. Only the Goulandris foundation objected, confirmed by the foundation’s director Kyriakos Koursomallis. «We have expressed objections to the major interventions such as the construction of a cafe, which is pointless given the plans for the museum,» he said, adding that the foundation has no objection to smaller-scale work such as cleaning, and allows that the ministry has the final say. As for the question of transplanting the trees, he also admits that there is a problem with the older trees. Despina Diamantourou, on behalf of the local environmental group, says that according to the foundation’s transplanting program, the older species (mostly pines and cypresses) have little chance of surviving the move. As for whether the foundation’s letter could be considered an informal «birth certificate» for the museum, Koutsomallis told Kathimerini that «everything is in readiness.» Meanwhile the prime minister has stated that there will be «no new construction sites in 2004,» and the building permit has not yet been issued. «As soon as we have the permit in our hands we can begin, but in any case it will be after the Games,» said Koutsomallis. he believes that Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni should take a clear stand on the issue, and Diamantourou has warned that her association would take recourse once more to the Council of State.

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