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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Neighbors Beg for Noise to Stop

MTYabloko activists protesting an infill construction site. Mayor Yury Luzhkov has promised to end infill development.
Weathering the cold with a small crowd of protesters, 11-year-old Ilya made a snowball and hurled it toward a construction site situated some 3 meters from his apartment building, his eyes filled with scorn.

Ilya is among the residents in the building at 17 Standartnaya Ulitsa, near the Bibirevo metro station in northern Moscow, who wake up every morning to the deafening noise of construction. They say they are victims of infill construction, the development of vacant or underused land plots in areas of the city that are already largely developed.

Supporters argue that infill development is an efficient and economic way to use a city's land and existing infrastructure and that it provides additional options in housing. But infill projects in the city's ongoing construction boom have angered residents, who say such construction has dramatically damaged quality of life because of noise pollution, loss of green space and widespread disregard of safety standards.

Complaints and protests over infill have become so numerous in recent months that the city's main construction agency has opened up a hotline, and a multiagency commission has been created to address residents' concerns, Alexander Kuzmin, head of City Hall's architecture committee, said last month.

City Hall had registered 662 complaints over 325 different sites as of late October, when Kuzmin said his commission had banned 21 construction projects. Addressing the City Duma in June, Mayor Yury Luzhkov promised to end infill development, and the city's construction board in late July ordered local prefects to stop granting permission for such projects. City construction chief and First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin, however, said ongoing infill construction sites would not be shut down.

Infill development continues despite City Hall regulations, said City Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin, head of Moscow branch of the liberal Yabloko party, which has spearheaded many of the protests against infill. The protests have become a regular occurrence since April, when construction began on a 14-story apartment building on a green area where area children used to play.

Svetlana Vaulina, 40, the founder of the group of disgruntled residents on Standartnaya Ulitsa, said that for the first several months, only she and her husband were picketing the construction site. Since other residents joined in, they have often picketed for eight to 10 hours a day.

Vaulina has sent numerous requests to city authorities to stop the construction or relocate residents, only to hear that the construction was legal and would continue.

Resin announced in March that the city would build 4.8 million square meters of housing by the end of the year, but space is becoming increasingly tight for new construction.

Responding to one of Vaulina's complaints in July, Ivan Khudoshin, deputy head of the Northeast Administrative District, said construction of the building was necessary because there were no other available spots.

While numerous dilapidated khrushchyovki -- five-story buildings erected in Moscow from 1956 to 1963 -- are slated for demolition, new buildings must be put up in which residents of those buildings can be resettled, said Lyudmila Aksyonova, a construction consultant with the district. Erecting apartment buildings on unoccupied lots is therefore the first step, Aksyonova said.

City regulations state that construction sites must be situated at least 3 meters away from any neighboring building. But Vaulina said the neighboring construction is 2 meters and 40 centimeters from her building. "They have blocked the way for emergency services to reach us," she said.

Furthermore, construction continues well after 10 p.m., thus violating noise regulations, Vaulina said.

Ivan Sleptsov, a spokesman for Glavstroi, one of the construction companies working on the Standartnaya Ulitsa project, said local prosecutors had inspected the site and found no violations.

The other company involved, TUKS-5, an affiliate of city-owned construction company Moskapstroi, called the residents' complaints unfounded and said city authorities had given the go-ahead.

The construction site underwent inspection in July by the city's construction committee, which checks projects for safety and sanitary violations and determines the cost of construction projects and evaluates them for economic feasibility, according to the text of the committee's findings.

A few violations identified in the findings have already been eliminated, Alexei Romanov, deputy head of the technical monitoring department of TUKS-5, said in a recent interview. He met with district authorities and the distraught residents in mid-October and said no violations had been uncovered.

"All their wishes were satisfied and they left contented," Romanov said. He accused the residents of "cajoling privileges that they are not entitled to."

Vaulina confirmed that the meeting took place but said the residents were far from happy. "How can we be satisfied? Nothing has changed."