War ruins win day over developers

  • 2002-08-22
  • TBT staff

A piece of prime old-town real estate on which World War II ruins stand will remain off-limits to developers, Tallinn city authorities said Aug. 14.

The ruling comes almost two months after 87 percent of city residents who voted in a June poll said the ruins of buildings bombed by the Soviet air force in 1944 should be left alone as a monument to Estonia's troubled 20th century history.

But city authorities also agreed to pay $1 million in compensation to the land's owners, primarily to Estonian-Norwegian real estate developer Gelsea OU, which bought most of the plots in the early 1990s and had been given the go-ahead by previous city administrations to begin building residential and office space on the area, some 100 meters away from Town Hall Square in Tallinn's historic old city.

Gelsea has criticized the new city authorities' change of heart. There were also doubts about whether the June 28-30 poll was binding because only about 8,000 of Tallinn's 400,000 residents bothered to vote. City officials had initially said they would require at least 30,000 to show up to consider the poll representative.

Agne Trummal, head of the City Council's cultural values department, said officilas decided it was a good way to commemorate Estonians who died during the bombing raids that devastated Tallinn during the war, as the ruins had never been declared an official monument.

In the late 1980s, Soviet authorities touched up the ruins and unveiled them as an improvised memorial to civiliains who died in the war, but after Estonia regained independence in 1991, city authorities sent mixed messages about the future of the area, eventually telling Gelsea it could begin planning to devleop it.

"The Estonian Society for Preservation of Antiquity has been asking to commemorate the victims of the bombing for years. We still have no monument dedicated to them," she said.

Rein Lang, Tallinn's deputy mayor, said Gelsea may decide to sue the city for time and money wasted on the project though no contracts between the two sides had been signed.