Metropolis claims land in western Athens

Municipal councilors and residents of western Athens are up in arms over claims by the Lamia Holy Metropolis to hundreds of hectares of state and private land in the municipalities of Petroupolis and Peristeri as well as forestland on nearby Mt Pikilos. The Church is basing its claim on a 1916 will that is being questioned by the municipalities’ legal representatives. A recent court ruling has declared null and void plans for 34 public squares and other public spaces in Peristeri, putting new infrastructure for entire neighborhoods on hold. Municipal councils as well as residents are also seriously concerned; the latter have set up committees to fight the Church’s plans, given the state’s apparent acquiescence in the Metropolis’s demands. «There is just 1 square meter of green space per person (here), when even the center of Athens has 2.5 square meters,» said Antonia Athanassopulou-Vafeiadi, a member of a local citizens’ committee. «We are not about to relinquish our rights to the open spaces in our municipality in order to serve ‘holy’ or unholy interests,» she said. «The young people, the other local residents and the municipal council are determined to raise obstacles to the Lamia Metropolis’s plans and declare their opposition to the seizure of hundreds of hectares being claimed by the Holy Metropolis of Fthiotida. Mt Pikilos, the only green area in Peristeri, is not negotiable,» said Mayor Andreas Pachatouridis. «There has been a number of mass protest rallies, meetings between the municipality and representatives of all political parties and parliamentary deputies of the Athens Second Electoral Region,» he added. Petroupolis Mayor Stefanos Gavriil-Vlachos declares himself equally determined. The story has its beginnings in the notorious «Verdis Pines» estate, sited approximately where the western Athens suburbs now stand. Its boundaries were too nebulous to be drawn on a map, so it eventually covered a somewhat greater area than its actual size.The first reference to the estate appears in 1847, in a contemporary land contract. There are a welter of subsequent conflicting contracts, wills and disputes over the ownership of the estate, which has also seen its share of bloodshed. Eventually, according to the Lamia Metropolis, it was granted the estate in a 1916 will. The estate has continued to grow in size over the years. The 1847 and 1873 contracts do not state its dimensions. In an 1883 will, reference is made to «1,000 stremmata» (100 hectares). In 1902, the estate suddenly appears as 300 hectares. In a 1927 contract, the heirs of the Verdis family declare 350 hectares. The Holy Church of Lamia, which appears as the beneficiary of the will, had previously stated the size of the estate as 100 hectares, more or less. However, it now claims that it owns 750 hectares. About half of that area lies on Mt Pikilos, another 100 within the limits of the municipality of Petroupolis and several more in the municipality of Ilion, an enormous area given that the total extent of the municipality of Peristeri is 1,100 hectares. As to how the estate came to expand to such a size, according to the Fthiotida Metropolis’s legal adviser, Panayiotis Konaxis, the main point in the will is the specific delineation of the estate’s boundaries, something that the municipal representatives dispute. Later calculations, according to Konaxis, increased the size fom 100 to 750 hectares. Forestland Local municipalities have well-founded claims that most of the disputed estate is forestland and therefore belongs to the Greek state. As early as 1905, the Verdis estate was entered in the Attica National Forests Register and classified as «national forest.» That does not mean, of course, that state services consistently safeguarded the state’s property. On the fringe of the Petroupolis Municipality are 43.3 hectares that the Metropolis claims is part of its total property. On June 15, 2000, the Agriculture Ministry handed over the area in question to the Finance Ministry to administer it as state land. In a document dated June 27, 2003, the Western Attica Property Service (which belongs to the National Economy and Finance Ministry) instructed the relevant services not to issue building permits for the area. In January 2004, the same service once again informed the prefectural and municipal authorities that this ban was being lifted and that it was undertaking a survey of the ownership status of the site, drafting an administrative and technical report, which it submitted to the ministry for consideration by Advisory Council of Public Estates and Exchangeable Property. While one would expect that the state’s services would defend its interests, the Advisory Council in Ruling 47 (July 15, 2004) «rules in favor of the non-submission of ownership rights by the Greek state to the area of 102.85 hectares within the limits of the Municipality of Petroupolis.» Of the 43.3 hectares mentioned previously, 26.2 of them are included in that latter 102.85 hectares. The survey continues with regard to the remainder. The Economy Ministry immediately accepted the ruling and granted the 26.2 hectares to the Fthiotida Metropolis. It ceded its rights without even waiting for the court to rule on the issue. Konaxis, of course, notes that there have been a number of court rulings vindicating his clients. However, there have also been opposing rulings. For example, on December 31, 1990, then deputy appeals court prosecutor Georgios Sanidas mentioned the manner in which some of the court rulings had been made. «The way the state defends its rights, the way the public administration operates and the likely intervention of public servants who have broken their oath, are all not unconnected to the fact that those bent on seizing the land have virtually succeeded in doing so.» Sanidas has clearly described a political scandal of major proportions.

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