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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

High-Rise Questions Popping Up in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG -- In a city built on low-lying marshes, skyscrapers would resemble castles in the sky. Yet now that St. Petersburg's architects, engineers, and administrators are moving forward with specific proposals for high-rise construction within the city limits, the technical challenges are only part of the dilemma.

The larger question is whether the planned high-rises will irrevocably change the city's famed skyline and compromise the delicate urban and natural environment.

The city's legislative council voted two weeks ago in favor of a regulation that raises the maximum height of buildings on Krestovsky and Kamenny islands from 12 meters to 28 meters. The debate over a precise upper limit stalled the proposal for more than a year, Interfax reported.

The city is slowly starting to approve high-rise construction projects. Last year, the urban policy and architecture committee approved a project for two 40-story residential towers in the Moskovsky district, in the city's south.

Meanwhile, developer Torgovy Dom is laying out a plan for a 42- to 46-story tower on the western part of Vasilyevsky Island. Billed as St. Petersburg's first true skyscraper, the project is estimated to cost around $100 million and will involve 4 1/2 years of construction work.

In part, high-rise construction projects are emerging as a response to consistently steep real estate prices, industry analysts said. Building higher is a sensible way to conserve space in a dense urban area.

Vladimir Frolov, an architectural critic and editor of Pod Klyuch, a design and architecture monthly, envisions a limited place for skyscrapers in the city's future development.

"It would be extremely inappropriate to build high-rise housing in the historical center, but it could function properly and effectively on the periphery," he said.

Moreover, expansion into parkland and recreational areas on Krestovsky and Kammeny islands -- only a stone's throw away from the city center -- could be an especially sensitive issue.

Alexander Karpov, an expert on ecology and a professor at the Nevsky Institute of Language and Culture, said that "development in these areas not only risks altering the visual environment, but also undermines the natural setting."

Karpov added that the inevitable rise in traffic caused by high-rise buildings would eliminate the city's few remaining green spaces.

Attempts at high-rise construction in St. Petersburg date back to the mid-1970s, but the more ambitious projects did not emerge until the '90s. These included a botched attempt to erect the so-called "Peter the Great Tower" on Vasilyevsky Island.

A 25-story residential building next to the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station, recently completed by the building firm Petrotrest, is the city's only high-rise structure to date.

According to Frolov, the decision to proceed with high-rises in St. Petersburg becomes a question of almost historical proportions.

"The silhouette of the city is unique and inviolable. Urban planners and decision-makers should keep in mind how history will treat them in this regard," he said.