Few votes cast in Harju Street poll

  • 2002-07-04
  • Aleksei Gunter, TALLINN
Less than 8,000 people participated in a three-day referendum of Tallinn residents to decide the fate of Harju Street, a prestigious and scenic Old Town location, whose destiny has been the topic of heated debate ever since the area was destroyed in World War II.

A Danish developer who bought the plot plans to build a commercial complex on it, which would bring it back to its pre-war use as a commercial and residential area.

But some have opposed development, arguing that the area should remain a park.

Of the few who could muster an opinion over 87 percent gave a positive answer to the referendum's somewhat loaded question: "Should the part of Harju Street next to Niguliste Church remain a recreational area as it is now?" between June 28 and June 30.

It cost Tallinn municipality 363,100 kroons ($22,700) to conduct the poll, a sum which critics say could have been better spent on other things.

Eesti Paevaleht particularly expressed disappointment at the exercise and Rein Laing, Tallinn's deputy mayor, said the referendum could only have been considered representative if at least 30,000 people had participated.

The western side of Harju Street was destroyed by Soviet bombing in 1944, leaving what is now a 2.1-hectare lawn and a pile of ruins used by residents for recreation.

The park has become a popular hangout for local youth, and survivors of the Soviet deportations gathered at the park in June to commemorate those that died during Stalinist rule.

If the area is preserved as the oasis of tranquillity it now is, the city may have to fight off legal action by several owners who are keen to develop it and will probably have to buy them out, said Laing.

Chief among the prospective developers is a Dane, Paal Aschjem of Gelsea OU, who paid 30 million kroons for a Harju Street plot in 1996.

"We've been waiting for six years. Our partners are amazed by the whole ado. It's just a political struggle before the autumn (local government) elections," said Aschjem.

Laing countered that the city administration had "never promised the land owners they would be granted a permit to build anything."

Liina Kilemit, head of the municipalities polling bureau said councilors would meet this week to decide on whether to abide by the referendum result