Concrete, swimming pools inundate Paros

The group of people that had just arrived in the port of Paros consisted of staff members and pensioners of the Public Power Corporation (PPC) from all over Greece who had come to this central Aegean island with a dream – to acquire a «little house» on the beach at Molos, overlooking the neighboring island of Naxos. What they may not have known is that the beach in question is part of the Natura 2000 environmental protection program and that dividing the land up into building plots is both impossible in practice and illegal. Nevertheless the former PPC union leader who had organized the excursion for prospective buyers had assured them that it would be all systems go from the minute they paid their deposits. Some did pay, not only for property at Molos but also at Aspro Horio. Since then, the Municipality of Paros has been under strong pressure from contractors to grant permits to open up new roads so that the housing cooperative can be built. This is not the only such case on the island. Owners and prospective owners all over Paros are putting pressure on PPC and the municipal water authority to link their networks to illegally built settlements. The municipality bears its own share of the responsibility. Mayor Yiannis Ragousis blames the Naxos building authority, which belongs to the prefecture, but there are several indications that he himself is partly to blame. For example, the municipal water authority supplies water to all, depending on their degree of influence, whether they are within town limits or not and regardless of whether their homes were built legally. There are some 400 swimming pools on the island, and their number is increasing rapidly every year. Major contracting firms from Athens have entered the fray, seeing the island as their next gold mine after the Olympics bonanza, helped further by the new generation of passenger ferries that are turning Paros into an outer suburb of Athens. One of the country’s largest construction firms built Ysterni, a settlement of 38 homes on 5.8 hectares outside the village of Naoussa. The firm is selling them for 3,000 euros per square meter. One of the firm’s directors, identified as C.K., told Kathimerirni that «only five apartments are left… we have a lot of prominent people among our customers.» Unfortunately these prominent people – including four leading members of both the government and opposition, a publisher and a former CEO of another publishing concern – are drinking other people’s water, people who were born on the island and live there all year round. The water authority claims it does not supply water to homes «outside the town plan» but that is not quite true. The firm that built this particular settlement told a Kathimerini staff member who called them to inquire about buying one of the homes that they were connected to the «town network.» Anyone can drill a private well after obtaining a permit from the municipal authority. As a result, an island that has always had plentiful water reserves as a result of its geomorphology – its marble has been storing water for centuries – now relies on desalination plants and on importing water by ship. Large construction firms specializing in second homes found fertile ground on Paros, with notaries public, realtors, lawyers, local authorities and banks turning a blind eye to zoning and building legislation. On August 3, the municipal council met to discuss a general zoning plan for the island. However, no matter what it decides, no one will ever enact the decision, as no municipality would dare to classify part of the island farmland, forest or grazing land and thereby deprive the land’s owners of the chance to build on it. The mayor is thinking of putting the plan to a referendum, although he was elected with 70 percent of the votes just two years ago. According to a report in the municipality’s possession, over the past 16 years, 2,000 new homes have been built on the island, which has a population of just 14,000. Another 220 are under construction and 689 have not even been declared to the building authorities, making a total of about 3,000, which is equivalent to the total number of homes ever built on the island. However, the four Athenian construction firms are continuing to build holiday homes, a large percentage of which have not yet been sold. The Syros public prosecutor’s office believes that apart from the Naxos prefectural building authority, whose director is the most popular councilor in the prefecture, much of the blame lies with local notaries public, two of whom are facing charges over something widely practiced in the Cyclades. Outside the town’s zoning limits, one can only build one single dwelling of 200 square meters on an 0.8-hectare plot (if it is by a roadside). So contractors buy plots of 0.8 hectares, divide them up and build five separate dwellings of 40 square meters, each with a basement, and link the five homes with pergolas. The notaries public then divide the single property into five and give each buyer a separate sales contract. So, on a plot of 0.8 hectares there are five homes, many with their own swimming pools and garage. All consume electricity and water. Last year, the Syros public prosecutor intervened and since then Paros’s notaries have been more cautious. So now their counterparts in Athens have stepped in, using not only the abovementioned practice but others too.