City bans unsuitable projects years later

  • 2005-09-28
  • By Kairi Kurim
TALLINN - The owners of Hotel Viru, whose plans for expansion into Tammsaare Park were banned by the Tallinn city mayor, are eagerly waiting for the Oct. 16 elections. Only then will they receive a building permit from the new party in power.

Mayor Tonis Palts banned the construction permit because the hotel "does not fit there," although the city had approved the site plan six years ago.

Aivar Reivik, deputy mayor in charge of city planning, told the business daily Aripaev, that decisions should be made according to public interest. "When a mistake has been made and it can still be improved, it should be done so," he said.

Site plans set in 1999 do not, by law, have to be given a construction license six year later, said Palts. "Values drawn in the site plan in the mid '90s have changed somewhat, and it would be right and honest to admit that."

Toomas Vitsut's, chairman of the Tallinn City Council and a member of the Center Party, PR officer Georg Pelisaar said that it would be difficult to interfere with the hotel's expansion on areas that belong to the owners. The city can set the standards and restrictions.

In Vitsut's opinion, when the Center Party is in power, the establishment of ugly houses should be banned in Tallinn. The City Council should organize a competition among various architects where, with the input of residents, they plan the development of downtown Tallinn, he added.

The owners of Viru Hotel have already established a long-term rental contract with Finnish hotel operator Sokos (Suomen Osuuskauppojen Keskuskunta) and thus demand hundreds of millions of euros in losses if City Hall refuses to allow a 17-story extension to the existing hotel near the Old Town. The city has agreed to compensate expenses made so far, but not potential revenues that have been lost. The planned 180-room hotel is estimated to cost 235 million kroons, and scheduled to open in spring 2007.

Yrjo Vanhanen, managing director of Pontos OY, the hotel's Finnish owner, said that nothing had happened so far. "We are looking forward to the elections to see if anything takes place."

Matti Pulkki, head of Finnish SOK hotel and restaurant group, said that they were waiting peacefully. He added: "We say nothing in this matter because it is the business of the investor [Pontos OY.] We are just waiting."

According to Sokos Hotel Viru, the hotel, with a total of 530 rooms, is the biggest in Estonia with about a 20 percent market share. The operator is also the biggest hotel chain in Finland with 38 Sokos hotels and six Radisson hotels. After the expansion, the market share in Estonia should stay about the same, because many new hotels are being built meanwhile, said Pulkki.

The mayor has also banned the construction of an 11-story building next to the existing 16-story structure near the Song Festival Grounds. "A new monster will not make the old monster prettier," he told the daily Postimees.

Palts is also protesting skyscrapers being built near the seaside, close to the Pirita River near the yachting center Pirita TOP. Pirita is a green area for single-family homes, he said, adding that he does not want to turn it into a Lasnamae-type area.

The mayor is keen in yachting and knows how the city looks from the gulf. He said that shipbuilding company BLRT's gigantic construction shed, which was built without a permit, distracts his eye and should be demolished. And the list goes on.

The city would like to compensate the construction company Restor for land near the Old Town's historic wall in order to stop new houses from going up. The city is also upset about the huge spa complex being built downtown, private houses mushrooming across the historical Maarjamae seacoast, and living complexes being built in the district of Lasnamae.

Jaano Martin Ots, the mayor's communication advisor, said that such "stupidities" could happen if Palts did not continue as city mayor.

"Other parties have shown that their mayors are quite weak and impressionable, and let the developers push their wishes through," said Ots.

He is afraid that other parties would, after negotiating with developers, find arguments defending why unsuitable developments should be allowed in the city.

"Unfortunately, I can't prove the possible support in party treasuries, but developers are frequent visitors in party offices," Ots said.

In an opinion article, Palts wrote that it was normal to strike deals with the city in which the government sector loses the maximum and the private sector takes the maximum. But that was not in the interest of citizens, he said, adding that he would stop it.

However, the mayor encourages developers to build more skyscrapers in Liivalaia near existing structures such as Stockmann. He said he believes that a 40-story tower would make the silhouette more dynamic.

Ots added that all projects currently written into the city plan would be finished without interruption.