NEWS

Nightlife swallows up real life

Tables jamming squares and sidewalks, deafening music blasting in apartment buildings, chimneys emitting odors and unlicensed nightclubs are the ugly side of entertainment. Infuriated members of the public take legal action but rarely win, and when they do, the rulings are rarely implemented. For example, a high-ranking local government official has been taking legal action unsuccessfully for years against a cafe-restaurant that operates illegally on the ground floor of his apartment block. Also, doctors who work in vital posts at a large hospital get no sleep because the business which has a license to operate as a cafe on the ground floor of their apartment block has been turned into a nightclub. Though the police are called every night, the club turns down the sound for less than an hour. The doctors sued and won their case but the club is still open. Law-abiding business owners are in despair. For instance, a young entrepreneur requests a permit to run a bar. The authorities tell him that he can get a permit but that the entire building in which he wishes to run it is illegal because one floor was built without a permit. Many businesspeople demand that the law be imposed fairly, complaining that they see others reopening establishments that have been sealed by court decisions. The authorities admit they cannot impose order on the lucrative nightlife business. The problem is critical in Athens, which has some 2,500 cafes and restaurants and 100 large nightclubs, according to municipal data. A typical example is that of a well-known cafe in Kolonaki, which operates illegally in an apartment block. The residents took legal action and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, but the ruling has never been implemented. Then there is another business in the same area run in a semi-basement that municipal inspectors ruled to be a basement. However, inspectors from the Public Works Ministry (YPEHODE) insist it is on the ground floor. And when the state does take action and close down some establishments, the owners frequently manage to get them reopened with the help of high-profile attorneys. Indeed, it is common for owners to remove official seals, which the authorities cannot then replace without a new charge from the police. Matters are even more complicated in areas that are saturated with cafes and restaurants, where any sense of public space and peace and quiet have disappeared. In Thiseion, for instance, where the municipality refuses to issue any more permits because the area is saturated, owners get permits from YPEHODE, which has established land use in the area by means of presidential decrees. The same applies to Psyrri, Plaka and Mets. The designation of land use, which is considered a panacea elsewhere for the organization of space and a curb on the relentless sprawl of nightclubs, actually increases problems rather than decreasing them. «I feel unable to impose the law,» Deputy Mayor Katerina Katrivanou, who is responsible for such businesses, told Kathimerini. «Hundreds of people complain every day because they miss getting some sleep as well as about infringements on the few precious open spaces in their city.» Different laws apply to the large nightclubs, but when nightlife heavies don’t agree with them they don’t comply, explained Katrivanou. YPEHODE designated Tavros a mixed residential area, which allowed large nightclubs to operate. But many large new establishments with dance floors have opened which, with very few exceptions, do not possess the appropriate permits. Frequently all they have is permits to run a simple cafe. Proposals shelved Several years ago, Athens city councilor Ira Valsamaki made some proposals to the municipality for tackling the problem. Curiously, though all were accepted, none were ever implemented. They included: – YPEHODE issuing presidential decrees immediately for land use throughout Athens. – One authority to issue land use and primary use certificates. – Better organization and staffing of municipal services to check infringements. – Immediate staffing of the municipality’s food and entertainment establishment permit departments. – Activation of regular inspections. These proposals, along with many others, have been shelved.