St. Petersburg. Residents Clash With Security Guards Over Construction
Defenders of the public garden at Komen-
dantsky Prospekt 40, where the construction company Severny Gorod plans to build a 12-story residential building, had another serious conflict with the security guards in charge of guarding the construction site on Monday.
“This morning about 40 security guards tried again to drive out local residents from our public garden, but they failed to do so,” said Yelena Gavrilova, a resident of the neighborhood.
The security guards had to relent when almost 150 protesters and representatives of mass media gathered at the site, she said.
Cesare Ottolini, a global coordinator of the International Alliance of Inhabitants, was present at the site and supported the actions of local residents, saying his organization “would now take the area under its watch.”
“It happens all around the world,” Ottolini said. “Developers try to get the maximum profit at minimal expense. You have to fight for your rights.”
The conflict surrounding the public garden at Komendantsky Prospekt, which is protected by a law issued by the city of St. Petersburg in 2007, began to unfold last week. On Thursday, around 40 construction trucks arrived almost simultaneously at the site with the aim of building a three-meter-high concrete fence around the garden in order to turn it into a closed-off construction site.
Local residents hurried out to protest the infill construction of what they say is the only public garden in that area. They tried to block the path of the trucks and stop workers from entering the site.
However, the construction workers still managed to build the concrete fence and metal gates around a section of the garden. They also cut down nearly 300 trees and dug up bushes that local residents planted several years ago, Gavrilova said.
“It looked like a military operation,” she said.
Even after the plants were uprooted, the protesters did not go home, but stayed and continued to plead with the developers and security guards.
“We stood up for this small public garden of ours because it’s the only place where people can go for a walk, or to take their children out to play,” said Gavrilova. “It is the place where we gather for New Year’s celebrations around the public Christmas tree. It’s hard to imagine how people will be able to move around this small space if another building is constructed.”
Meanwhile, while security guards were closing the gates of the new fence on Thursday night, a group of six protesters — mostly women — entered the fenced-off area and remained there for the entire night.
Representatives of Severny Gorod, which is a part of RBI holding, said that the women had sneaked into the gated area and stayed there voluntarily, even though they saw that the gates were being closed.
Police representatives who were on site at the time refused to intervene in the situation.
Early the next morning, security guards tried to force the women out of the garden but could not make them leave, Gavrilova said.
On Friday, deputies from the A Just Russia party intervened, putting the conflict on hold until Tuesday to allow time for an investigation.
During the weekend, Oleg Nilov, A Just Russia deputy in the city’s Legislative Assembly, had a truck of trees saplings driven to the site. Residents planted about 40 of them in the garden.
“People were so happy when they were planting those trees,” Gavrilova said. “And we are ready to stand up to protect our little green oasis.”
At the same time, Gavrilova said that many residents still had doubts that the law would prevail, even though it is technically on their side.
“People really need laws that work in this country,” she said.
The site that RBI is attempting to develop appears to be rather ill-fated. The conflict between the developers and residents of the neighborhood has been going on for a few years.
The site was opened for construction in 2004, a decision that was immediately met with protests by local residents. The construction was to take place over part of a public garden that local residents had planted themselves at their own expense. They also complained that the site was already crowded and had very little space to accommodate a new building.
“Several years ago Severny Gorod built a residential building in our area, right on the spot where there used to be a district sports ground,” said Gavrilova. “They built a 16-story building instead of the 10-story building they had originally planned. It affected the electricity and water supplies in the neighboring buildings, because the engineering infrastructure of the area was not equipped for such demand.”
In 2007, the public garden at Komendantsky Prospekt made it onto a list of green areas for public use which, under St. Petersburg law, were to be protected from future development.
However, in its press release on the case, Severny Gorod said that its development of the area was fully within the law, and that it had received all necessary permission for construction.
The company referred to a St. Petersburg law from 2004 that opened up city property for possible future development. They also said that, in October 2004, they had signed a contract with the city’s Real Estate Committee regarding the lease of the site at Komendantsky Prospekt.
Furthermore, the company is beginning construction on the site in accordance with permission given by St. Petersburg’s State Construction Review in 2006 and valid through 2010, said a representative of Severny Gorod.
In 2003, the project was brought up for public discussion, but no serious objections were raised at the time.
“At a time when a third of construction sites in St. Petersburg have stopped work, Severny Gorod continues to work, despite the financial crisis,” the representative said. “We are beginning the construction of new buildings that will provide the good quality living space that city residents need.”
“Meanwhile, a group from the neighboring buildings on Komendantsky Prospekt is actively violating the legal right of Severny Gorod to complete construction,” he said.
Natalya Shorina, a spokeswoman for Severny Gorod, said that the company is aware of the city law of 2007 that protects the area’s green space, and that in light of this law, Severny Gorod appealed to St. Petersburg’s arbitration court to solve the legal collision.
“In September, the court recognized the supremacy of the previous laws, because they were signed earlier,” said Shorina. “Therefore
the company intends to exercise its legal right to build on the site,” she said.