City Hall Offering Its Land Law Nationwide

City Hall passed controversial amendments to federal law in the first reading Wednesday that would broaden the cases in which regional authorities can force owners to hand over land for low-income housing and "social infrastructure buildings."

Critics of the bill say, however, that it is designed to legalize seizures in Moscow already under way but not in line with federal legislation, depriving city residents of the chance to defend their property rights in court.

The all-important second reading for the bill, which was sponsored by the City Hall Land Resources Department, was scheduled for next Wednesday's session.

If the legislature passes the amendments on second and third readings, they will be forwarded to the State Duma for consideration.

The United Russia majority voted unanimously for the amendments Wednesday, while Yabloko and the Communists voted against.

The proposed amendments would change federal laws to match Moscow's, which contain a broader list of "exceptional cases" in which residents can be forced to hand over their property and allows for the seizure of land owned privately, by the federal government or by governments of other regions.

Oleg Ryzhkov, first deputy head of the City Hall Land Resources Department and one of the bill's authors, said the measures were necessary in the face of a shortage of available land in the city.

Alexander Milyavsky, the head of the City Duma commission for city planning and development, which is backing the legislation, agreed.

"Everything we are doing is aimed at providing housing for as many of those who need it as possible," Milyavsky said.

But critics of the legislation and, strangely enough, Ryzhkov himself, said "social infrastructure buildings" were not defined in the bill, an omission that could lead to land being seized for commercial development.

Sergei Mitrokhin, a Yabloko deputy, said his faction would propose amendments prohibiting the confiscation of publicly owned land like children's playgrounds and sports grounds.

Alexei Navalny, who with Mitrokhin co-heads the Committee to Protect Muscovites, said the amendments would strip residents of their last defense.

"We are being deprived of the last legal instruments available to defend our property," said Yelena Lukonina, who lives building No. 1 at 16 1st Khoroshevsky Proyezd, a five-story building slated for demolition.

The building's residents have been fighting a City Hall demolition order in court, arguing that their land is being confiscated for the construction of commercial housing.