Illegal homes sprout on Pendeli

Swaths of recently reforested land on Mount Pendeli, north of Athens, have been illegally appropriated and used to build homes and roads while authorities have been looking on without stepping in to prevent construction, Sunday’s Kathimerini has discovered. Sources said that developers and land-grabbers have been moving into the area at a fast pace over recent years, taking advantage of legal loopholes and lumbering bureaucracy. Forested areas of Mount Pendeli have suffered from a long series of fires over the last 11 years. In 1995, 6,500 hectares were burned, and in the most destructive fire of recent years, in 1998, some 9,600 hectares of forestland were scorched. Since then, there has been at least one fire on Pendeli’s slopes every year – albeit less destructive. Once the trees have been burned down, professional and private developers often move in, looking to build homes on the land before new trees are planted there. They take advantage of the situation because it is illegal to build on land that is registered as part of a forest or is to be reforested. Some 3 kilometers from the legally built community of Stamata on Mount Pendeli, the local forest is full of homes that have been built illegally. There is also a paved road running through the area, which is against the law as well. People who know the area well told Kathimerini that plots of land are often fenced in by people who do not have any title deeds. All they have to show are draft agreements between their ancestors and the man who owned much of the area, Asimakis Iliopoulos. Using these papers and a number of legal loopholes, land-grabbers are gradually able to establish a legal right to the plot. The only way of stopping construction once this phase has been reached is for the local forest ranger to inform local authorities that someone is building on forestland. But if the trees have been burned or chopped down, the existence of a forest becomes difficult to prove and leaves authorities with little power to intervene.