More Maroussi concrete

The rampant construction boom seems to know no limits as even the grounds of a 17th century chapel are on the verge of being swallowed in concrete. Age-old cypress trees surrounding the chapel of Aghios Georgios Homatianon in Paradeisos, Maroussi, in Athens’s north, are being threatened with the ax to make way for offices and stores. The local authorities appear not to recognize the need to protect one of the few remaining open spaces left on Kifissias Avenue. The green space around the church is an exception to the rule along the avenue, which in recent years has become the virtual domain of construction companies. Open spaces on either side of the road are undoubtedly Attica’s prime real estate. But one wonders whether these steel-and-glass towers are the most appropriate model for development. Last year, the Maroussi municipal council took a unanimous decision to expropriate the approximately 0.35 hectares, with funds from the budget (July 29, 2003). Nevertheless, Mayor Panayiotis Tzanikos later cited budgetary problems as a reason for backing down on the expropriation. In a document sent last October to the Environment and Public Works Ministry’s (YPEHODE) zoning department, he said he wanted to «retain both the chapel and the green space on the property,» but was unable to meet the cost required «because the municipality has been overly burdened with infrastructure projects related to the Olympic Games.» According to municipal councilor Sophia Sakorafa, the document was sent to the ministry department without the knowledge of the council, raising questions as to the municipality’s intentions. In November, following the letter, YPEHODE Deputy Minister Rodoula Zisi issued a ministerial decree (1332/5/12/2003) allowing the owner of the property, which was bought in 1994 from the «Bread of Life» Foundation, to build on the land around the chapel. The decree permits construction on 40 percent of the surface of the property. The whole story is similar to that of the controversy over the Thon property in Ambelokipi. The president of the Paradeisos Cultural Association Stelios Asimakopoulos charges that the actions of the municipal council over the past 10 years or so have favored the interests of the owner rather than those of the local residents. «Though the chapel and the nearby graves have been listed as historic monuments in a Culture Ministry decree of 1995 covering the entire area, and the site has been classified for public use, the municipality has done nothing to expropriate it,» he said. The cultural association has appealed to the Council of State, asking for the annulment of the ministerial decree, which it sees as the final straw in a series of actions by the municipal council and the Culture and Environment ministries to allow the owner to build on the site. The saga of the chapel began back in 1989, when the board of the Bread of Life Foundation, after applying to the Athens Appeals Court, managed to sell the property assets entailed upon it by Archimandrite Athanassios Lymberopoulos. On February 25, 1994, the foundation invited bids, and the NGM Construction Contractors, Tourism and Shipping Company SA bought the land for 469 million drachmas, knowing that the site was classified in the town plan as public land by a royal decree of 1970. In an application to the Eastern Attica Prefecture, YPEHODE and the municipality of Maroussi, the owners claimed the State had failed to expropriate the land and pay compensation. Receiving no answer, they appealed to the Council of State. Meanwhile, in 1995 the Culture Ministry classified the church and remaining graves as a listed monument and the entire block as a protected zone. In 1996 the Council of State (ruling 5622/1996) approved the owners’ application, since in 23 years the State had done nothing to expropriate the land. The municipality then set in motion the process to declassify the site, amending the town plan. But it appears the process was stalled by the culture minister’s prior decision. The Council of State was called in and in 1999 ruled that construction was not permitted given that the entire block was characterized as listed. The case was frozen, only to be revived in 2000 when then-YPEHODE Minister Elissavet Papazoe approved offices and stores on the site. The owners, obviously struggling to find a way to build on the site, applied to the Central Council for Town Planning and the Environment, which ruled in favor of construction around the church. In October 2002, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos approved a new plan for an office block and shopping center. Now the municipality’s town-planning department is once again examining the case, which would have long been closed if it had not been delayed over the expropriation procedure in the first place. In December 2002, the department proposed the compulsory purchase of the site in order to preserve it as public space. The council unanimously agreed in July 2003 to expropriate the site, at a cost of over 1.8 million euros, from its 2003 budget. However, the municipality claims to be in financial straits, making way for the contractors to step in as a result of the former’s negligence, coupled with the overlapping laws, contradictory ministerial decrees and a clear lack of will on the part of those charged with the conservation of the few remaining open spaces. What would the Logothetis family, who built the little stone chapel of Aghios Georgios in the early 17th century, make of all this today?