Offices sprouting on the slopes of Mt Parnassus
«Parnassus-Pavliani: a 190 sq.m. stone chalet on a 520-hectare property with a capacity for two more chalets or commercial premises, on sale for 300,000 euros.» This is just one of the advertisements to be found on the Internet for property on Mt Parnassus where, strange as it may seem, office buildings have almost outnumbered private homes. The reason is simple. Permission to build offices is granted for almost three times the amount of space allowable for private homes. The authorities do not seem to be wondering why so many businesses are moving up the mountainside, nor why these offices have four bedrooms, a large living room and two bathrooms. According to complaints that have been lodged, this is a tactic that is widely used in the area around Agoriani, where the forest has been repeatedly encroached upon and huge maisonettes are hidden among the fir trees, all disguised as business premises, owned by prominent Athenian lawyers and businesspeople. The same thing is happening in Livadi, near Arachova. One wonders what sort of engineers are putting their names to these designs and why the Amfissa town-planning service is granting them building permits. After an article in Kathimerini on October 15 of this year, the newspaper received a number of reports from readers, both anonymous and signed, that revealed yet another aspect of the problem. Another customary violation of the law occurs when construction companies sell homes in which the attics and basements, which are supposed to be «blind,» are equipped with windows and doors, illegally creating extra floors, and for which the purchaser is expected to sign an affidavit that the property was handed over without these features. Then there is the case of the Toubanaria-Kariofyli district of Delphi. «Three or four groups of people have been trading in forest areas and properties owned by third parties who often don’t know what is going on in the area of southern Parnassus,» wrote the local newspaper Fokis. According to other charges, in recent years there has been a run of clearings on the mountainside that are then claimed as private property. Teams of people search the mountain for areas that have sparse tree cover and which are either not privately owned (because they are either state land or classified as forest) or whose owner has died intestate. They also make use of state or municipal land that was granted for use as grazing land and then decades later is described as agricultural. Then wills are produced – even 40 years after the deaths of the owners – leaving the land in question to their offspring. Others suddenly remember the property and complete supplementary statements of inheritance for property in addition to their existing properties. Willing neighbors, relatives or friends can always be found to sign a sworn statement to support their claims. Local notaries public and surveyors are always willing to accept proof of ownership and witnesses’ statements. From there on it is easy to prove that the land in question is agricultural and can be built upon. Centuries-old fir trees are cut down (and buried to remove all traces of them), laborers clear the land of rocks and tractors are brought in to churn up a few furrows to make it appear that the land is being cultivated. The Forestry Service does not challenge the classification and the way is open for a maisonette to go up. The land is sold to a construction firm for many millions of euros. Fires also serve their purpose. There are claims that a recent fire near Kato Toubanaria was the result of arson. «This is a major scandal involving the local powers that be and services,» said Efrosini Tzamtzi, publisher of Fokis. «These declassifications of property are no longer being announced in the local press but in secondary Athens newspapers.» An investigating magistrate is looking into the Toubanaria case. Meanwhile, in response to a question from a PASOK deputy, the justice minister said that recourse to «an expert opinion» was being considered. The investigation has been dragging on for the last two years, however, as the invasion of Parnassus by major consortiums (of businessmen, importers, and former and current ministers) has opened the way for realtors bent on turning the mountain into a winter Myconos.