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The battle for the Estonian coastline

  • 2015-08-05
  • By Stuart Garlick

[CORRECTION: The Baltic Times interviewed Teele Pehk on the morning of July 24, the same day that a new version of the architectural detail plan for Kalarand was announced - it was released to the public on 3 August 2015. An initial print version of this article first appeared on August 5, which can be seen below.

Following correspondence from Pro Kapital, we have been asked to point out that, although the words featured on the detail plan that was publicly-available when we published this article, the new detail plan does not contain the words "Yacht Harbour" or its Estonian equivalent, as they have been deleted from the plan. Pro Kapital did not send the detail plan to The Baltic Times, sending instead another illustration on 23 July that was dated 3.10.2014, however we are happy to clear up any confusion.

When interviewed, Teele Pehk said, "now there will be third public display of the detailed plan, but they are promising that the yacht harbour, that's out from the detailed plan. But it doesn't mean that they still don't wanna do it, they can do it with other means, not with this detailed plan, but, say, with separate detailed plan."

Pehk also explained, in the course of the interview, on an older version of the detailed plan, "if you look clearly there is written 'jahisadam' (yacht harbour) and its with dots, so the possibility is always there [...]".  

Both of these quotes were left out of the article, but this was not intended to cause misunderstanding, or to mislead readers. The Baltic Times apologises to both Teele Pehk and Pro Kapital for this omission. Teele Pehk also advised the author to interview a representative of North-Tallinn's district administration to get the city's view. The original plan was to publish this, along with quotes from Tallinn City Government, in a follow-up article, due to considerations of time and space. This will now be reviewed and discussed.

In the same interview, the words "gated community" were used to describe the new property development. Pro Kapital has also asked us to mention that the detail plan includes a regulation that the planned development cannot be fenced. We are happy to mention this.]

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TALLINN - The sea looks vibrant and exciting from Kalarand, the beach in the centre of Tallinn, spray lashing onto the rocky outcrops where young people sit, laugh, and contemplate their future. Someone strips down to swimwear and jumps in the clean water for a morning refresher. The summer weather in Tallinn in 2015 might be bracing, but local bathers are used to worse, and are made of tough stuff.

Just next to Kalarand is the hulking Patarei prison complex, a Unesco-protected building from Estonia’s first period of independence, once used to imprison communists, then, during the Soviet occupation, used as a place to put criminals and dissidents of all kinds. It today stands as a stark reminder of the past Estonia has escaped, just as the Lennusadam (Seaplane Harbour) museum, a European-funded masterpiece of modern engineering, acts as an example of a great modern use of an urban space.

I had visited Kalarand with a friend recently, on a balmy July evening. My friend had been there for hours, with the beach accessible from either Tallinn Old Town, or Kalamaja, and providing an oasis far away from the hum of cars and from the tourist crowd.

Kalarand seems a rare example, in such a developed urban landscape as Tallinn, of a patch of calm, where it is possible to spend leisure time without being required to pay for a coffee, or to have a ticket. However, the daily thrum of construction equipment behind the beach, in a patch of flat land present since the 1980s, tells a different story.

Development is taking place, with landowners since 2000, AS Pro Kapital Eesti, preparing the site for future building work.
Surprised and confused by the seeming contradiction of a beach that could be privately-owned, I looked further into this. Having asked some questions of Pro Kapital by email, I received a reply from Ervin Nurmela, the property developers’ Head of Legal. In it, as a response to my softball questioning, Nurmela says, “To avoid any misstatements of facts in the planned article, please be so kind and send me the article for fact check before publishing. Please provide the Pro Kapital comment in full, without any alterations.”

Although The Baltic Times has opted not to print in full the statement, and does not offer interviewees the opportunity to fact-check before printing, we are happy to give balanced representation to all views. Nurmela responds to my assertion that, to a UK citizen living in Estonia such as myself, it was hard to imagine a beach being privately-owned. “In Estonia most of the land is in private ownership and there are thousands of land plots which border the sea, which are in private ownership. So the Kalarand case is not anything special or strange. There is a law that the private owner has to grant public access to the seaside 10 metres from the sea. This does not apply in some cases - for instance if there is a port on the land plot (like Kalaranna). To be clear – Pro Kapital has nothing against public use of the seaside.”

What plans do Pro Kapital have for the area? “The City of Tallinn is proceeding with the detail planning for the Kalarand area. The purpose of the detail planning is to officially open the seaside to the public and to establish a building volume for residential and commercial buildings in accordance with the valid general planning established for this area.”

“Detail planning foresees a wide (min 25 meters) seaside promenade with large recreational areas for public use and buildings with residential and commercial use next to the promenade. To get the best solution for the promenade and the buildings next to it Pro Kapital will conduct an open architectural competition after the establishment of the detail plan.”
“The future promenade will be in public use after completion and the relevant contract has been made with City of Tallinn. It should be noted that for example Pirita promenade with green area is around 20 metres wide. The proposed Kalarand promenade will be minimum 25 metres and in some parts even wider, so the seaside will have clearly a new quality and quite a large public recreational area; around 40% of today’s plot will be in public use, which by Tallinn planning standards it a very big area.”

This all, ostensibly, sounds great - pushing Tallinn into a new era, bringing desirable residential properties and also new business opportunities to an area that is still changing, and driving economic expansion. However I wanted to hear the community side of the discussion, and what citizens felt about these plans, so I sit on the rocks again, and speak to Teele Pehk, an urbanist working for Estonian Urban Lab, and a member of local community group Telliskivi Selts, formed in 2009 to give residents a voice in the area.

I begin with the question, again, of how a beach can possibly fall into private hands. Pehk, a bright-eyed and clear-voiced young woman who has been using the beach for years, explains. “It was privatised, as with most land, because of rush capitalism. Even when it’s privately-owned, the seaside should be public-access. But the investors, Pro Kapital, are quite old-fashioned developers, and they want a gated community here, with five-storey, luxury apartments, and a yacht harbour, with gates, access to those who own yachts, and it’ll be raised, so there will be no access to the water. These plans are from the pre-boom years, it’s already outdated, but the developers and the City Government are pushing it through, even though there have been waves of protest.”

Clearly there is a difference in thinking: Pro Kapital believe they have no obligation to provide public access to the beach or the sea, as there is a harbour attached (this port by the side of the beach, owned by Pro Kapital, hosts ships that sail to the nearby islands of Aegna and Naissar). However community activists believe that this is not necessarily so.
“Pro Kapital has been claiming that this was always a harbour - in Soviet times there were a lot of boat-repair workshops here, and the canned-fish industry as well. But this was during Soviet times. This land [she points at the flat gravel land beyond the beach] has only existed since the eighties.”

“They want to put up a fence,” Pehk says, “to block access to the sea, [so that] when the detail plan is accepted by the City Government, they can open the gate and say, ‘look, we’re opening up access to the sea!’” Currently there is a sign at the entrance of Kalarand advising pedestrian access is prohibited which, Pehk believes, is not legally-binding.

Nurmela disagrees. “Currently all this land including the so-called beach area, where swimming is actually against health regulation due to a nearby sewage collector, is private property. There is an operational port on the land plot, and as per the legislation there is no obligation to grant access to the area, although some people, especially representatives of Telliskivi Selts, treat this area like it’s a public area.” The issue here is in the interpretation of “on the land plot”. It is true there is a port adjacent to Kalarand’s beach - but it appears, at least to this layman’s eye, to be a separate entity to the beach. It would appear that a landowner can only deny public access to the sea if it can argue that the port and the beach are part of one and the same entity, and it also appears this legal interpretation is key to the argument.

“Telliskivi Selts organizes events and constructs seaside structures on the private land not even asking any permission from the owner. At the same time Pro Kapital as the owner of the land pays for cleaning of the area and the land tax, around 150,000 EUR per year. In our opinion such behaviour by Telliskivi Selts representatives is not acceptable, as it clearly shows disrespect to the rights of the owner of the land and such behaviour does not set grounds for a meaningful discussion about the future of the land plot. The goal of Telliskivi Selts is to keep the area as it is, without any progress or improvement of possibilities to use the seaside. In Pro Kapital’s opinion this is against the interest of many people who would like to have a quality promenade and not the current wasteland which is today’s situation.”

Pehk is quick to explain the reasoning behind the public events held on the beach - but not before she argues against the point made about water quality. “This is a beach in the centre [of the city], you can swim here. There were doubts - people said, ‘what if the water is bad for your health?’ but we took a sample in 2011 and proved that the water is quite safe. I swim here, many people do, and so that’s really not an argument.”

“We’ve been encouraging people, families, to see that this place is here, and to use it. We’ve organised summer beach parties, sauna parties with temporary sauna tents. It’s easy for them to claim it’s a wasteland - they need to protect their business plan - but there is a very high public interest here. This plan, over the years, has attracted hundreds of signatures against. We organised [a petition], very positively-framed, to protect the values of the sand beach, to protect the swimming possibility, to protect the Cultural Kilometre, although we couldn’t manage that last one, as you can see.”

She gestures to the once-beautiful footpath, that stretched from Kalasadama to Lennusadam, and provided a pedestrian promenade with no interruption to the sound or view of the sea. Tallinn City Government has dug this up and replaced it with a road designed to facilitate heavy goods vehicle access and ease traffic flow, to the apparent detriment of local tourism.

Are Tallinn City Government listening to both sides of the debate on the future of Kalarand? One solution proposed was that Tallinn purchase Kalarand. This could either be an outright purchase, or, Telliskivi Selts has proposed in the past, part of a swap-deal involving the land at Kopli Liinid, next to the Estonian Maritime Academy, a once-proud shipbuilding district now full of derelict and crumbling wooden houses. Pro Kapital is bidding for ownership of the site, along with rival company OU Fund Ehitus.

It would appear Tallinn’s administration has at least heard views on the matter. “There was a meeting with Mayor Savisaar in 2013,” Pehk tells me. “Telliskivi Selts board members went there and suggested [a public purchase]. He was like, ‘yeah, I’ve actually been thinking about that,’ so the idea has been there. I still think Pro Kapital thinks it can push [its own] plan through, but I don’t see it happening yet.”

Pehk says that some of the City officials she showed the beach had never previously visited it, in spite of being responsible for planning in the area. “It’s possible that Savisaar looked at the possibility of buying the beach and asked how many votes he would get from it - but I’d also say we are doubting City officials’ competence at this stage.” One way of both increasing the level of dialogue and of raising City and public awareness of the beach would be to hold more public meetings on it, Pehk feels.

As for the Kopli Liinid swap deal proposal, Nurmela denies Pro Kapital has ever heard this proposed. “We can’t comment on fantasies of Telliskivi Selts. No such proposal has been made and there is an ongoing tender to sell Kopli Liinid by the City of Tallinn.” Later, clarifying, he says, “Telliskivi Selts or the City Government have not offered any exchange with Kopli Liinid. The value of Kalarand and Kopli Liinid is not comparable and such offer would not make any sense for Pro Kapital shareholders.”

Pro Kapital, who have been very co-operative in the research of this article, provided me with a map of the area, with plans for a future promenade. However Pehk shows me the architectural detail plan. One of the elements on the detail plan, missing from the map I was sent by Pro Kapital, is the word “jahisadama”, or “yacht harbour”, showing that this development, which would transform significantly a quiet piece of coastline, figures in Pro Kapital’s plans.

Nurmela wants to respond to suggestions about giving Kalarand to the public. “You refer to Kalarand being returned to being public land. Please note that it has never been public land. This is the misconception Telliskivi Selts is telling everyone. The detail plan in process will, on the other hand, make the large area of Kalarand officially public. But this is clearly not the purpose Telliskivi Selts wants to achieve. Confrontation seems the way for Telliskivi Selts to be in the picture.”

Pehk explains that the consultation phase is still open for the changes to Kalarand, and that the public still has a say, so anyone who wishes to keep access to the sand beach and the sea should write a letter or email to Tallinn City Government, and should submit suggestions to the website she is running. She also suggests that, the more public events are held on the beach, the more awareness is raised of it, and that this was a positive thing for the area.
But what of the future? “If it were bought back and brought into public ownership, I’m not sure a 100% park is what I’d want; I think some residential properties would be nice here - it would bring more life. It’s good to have it for non-commercial use, so you can just spend your time here, but also so that, if you want to grab a coffee or have lunch here, you can.”

Confrontation, for members of Telliskivi Selts, seems to be less the order of the day than eating. “My dream is to organise a charity dinner on here,” Pehk concludes, “with fancy food and a white tablecloth. There’s this image of only hippies and hipsters going here to drink their Prosecco, but many people come here. Russians come here. Many people like to barbeque, which you can do here.” Pehk is running the call for public ideas, on the website www.meretallinn.ee, available in Estonian, Russian and English.TT

Further information:

Here (in Estonian) is Telliskivi Selts’ timeline of events, including a video of their 2011, officially-sanctioned, urban installations on the beach:

http://www.telliskiviselts.info/linnaruum/kuum-linnaruum/kalasadama-detailplaneering/kalasadama-planeeringu-kronoloogia

Call for public ideas: http://meretallinn.ee/

Tallinn Kalarand’s community website: https://www.facebook.com/kalarandtallinnas

The Pro Kapital statement in full:

 

Dear Stuart

In regards to your questions Pro Kapital comment is as follows:

The City of Tallinn is proceeding with the detail planning for the Kalarand area. The purpose of the detail planning is officially open the seaside to the public and to establish a building volume for residential and commercial buildings in accordance with the valid general planning established for this area.

Detail planning foresees a wide (min 25 meters) seaside promenade with large recreational areas for public use and buildings with residential and commercial use next to the promenade. To get the best solution for the promenade and the buildings next to it Pro Kapital will conduct an open architectural competition after the establishment of the detail plan.

Please see attached the drawing showing the area of future promenade and the area of the buildings.

The future promenade will be in public use after completion and the relevant contract has been made with City of Tallinn.

It should be noted that for example Pirita promenade with green area is around 20 meters wide. The proposed Kalarand promenade will be minimum 25 meters and in some parts even wider, so the seaside will have clearly a new quality and quite large public recreational area (around 40% of today’s plot will be in public use, which by Tallinn planning standards it a very big area).

About the current situation. Currently all this land including the so called beach area (where swimming is actually against health regulation due to nearby sewage collector) is private property. There is an operational port on the land plot (you can visit Aegna and Naissaar islands from there) and as per the legislation there is no obligation to grant access to the area, although some people (especially representatives of Telliskivi Selts) treat this area like it’s a public area. Telliskivi Selts organizes events and constructs seaside structures on the private land not even asking any permission from the owner. At the same time Pro Kapital as the owner of the land pays for cleaning of the area and the land tax around 150 000 EUR per year. In our opinion such behavior of Telliskivi Selts representatives is not acceptable as it clearly shows disrespect to the rights of owner of the land and such behavior does not set grounds for a meaningful discussion about the future of the land plot. The goal of Telliskivi Selts is to keep the area as it is, without any progress or improvement of possibilities to use the seaside. In Pro Kapital’s opinion this is against the interest of many people who would like to have a quality promenade and not the current wasteland which is the today’s situation.

As the process of the detail planning has been delayed due to protests organized by Telliskivi Selts we are currently analyzing the potential of using Kalarand as per its today’s legal status (port) until the process of the detail planning is finished.

As to the idea of swap deal referred to in your email. We can’t comment on fantasies of Telliskivi Selts. No such proposal has been made and there is an ongoing tender to sell Kopli Liinid by the City of Tallinn. You refer to Kalarand to be returned to being public land. Please note that it has never been a public land. This is the misconception Telliskivi Selts is telling everyone. The detail plan in process will on the other hand make the large area of Kalarand officially public. But this is clearly not the purpose Telliskivi Selts wants to achieve. Confrontation seems the way for Telliskivi Selts to be in the picture.

To avoid any misstatements of facts in the planned article, please be so kind and send me the article for fact check before publishing. Please provide the Pro Kapital comment in full, without any alterations.

Best regards

Ervin Nurmela

Juhatuse liige/ Peajurist

Member of the Management Board / Head of Legal

Tel: +372 614 4920  GSM: +372 5130013

E-mail: ervin@prokapital.ee

AS Pro Kapital Eesti

Põhja pst. 21, 10 414, Tallinn