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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

St. Pete Locals Fighting to Keep Park

MTResidents of Komendantsky Pereulok celebrating after facing down a construction company’s guards last week.

ST. PETERSBURG — Residents of a St. Petersburg neighborhood won a temporary reprieve last week against a construction company’s plans to destroy a beloved neighborhood park and build a 12-story residential building in its place.

Komendantsky Pereulok residents squared off with security guards from the Severny Gorod company on Oct. 5 after the builder put up a fence around the park and began moving equipment to the site.

“This morning about 40 security guards tried again to drive out local residents from our public park, but they failed to do so,” neighborhood resident Yelena Gavrilova said.

The security guards had to relent when almost 150 protesters and journalists gathered at the Komendantsky Pereulok site, she said.

Cesare Ottolini, a global coordinator of the International Alliance of Inhabitants, was present at the rally and supported the actions of local residents, saying his organization “would now take the area under its watch.”

“It happens all around the world,” Ottolini said. “Developers try to get the maximum profit at minimal expense. You have to fight for your rights.”

Public opinion is seldom taken into account when it comes to construction projects in St. Petersburg.

A poll of 1,200 St. Petersburg residents conducted last week had 77 percent of respondents against the building of the Okhta Center, a Gazprom skyscraper that threatens to dramatically alter the city’s historic skyline.

Thousands took to the streets in protest last week after St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko approved the project.

The conflict surrounding the public park at Komendantsky Prospekt, which is protected by a 2007 law, began to unfold at the start of October. On Oct. 1, about 40 construction trucks arrived at the site with the aim of building a 3-meter-high concrete fence around the park in order to turn it into a closed-off construction site.

Local residents hurried out to protest the infill construction of what they say is the only public park in that area. They tried to block the path of the trucks and stop workers from entering the site.

However, the construction workers still managed to build the concrete fence and metal gates around a section of the park. They also cut down nearly 300 trees and dug up bushes that local residents planted several years ago, Gavrilova said.

“It looked like a military operation,” she said.

Even after the plants were uprooted, the protesters did not go home, but stayed and continued to plead with the developers and security guards.

“We stood up for this small public park of ours because it’s the only place where people can go for a walk, or take their children out to play,” said Gavrilova. “It is the place where we gather for New Year’s celebrations around the public Christmas tree. It’s hard to imagine how people will be able to move around this small space if another building is constructed.”

On Oct. 1, a small group of protestors entered the fenced-off area and remained there for the entire night.

Representatives of Severny Gorod, which is a part of RBI Holding, said the women had sneaked into the gated area and stayed there voluntarily, even though they saw that the gates were being closed.

Police who were on site at the time refused to intervene in the situation.

Early the next morning, security guards tried to force the women out of the park but could not make them leave, Gavrilova said.

The next day, deputies from the Just Russia party intervened, putting the conflict on hold until the following week to allow time for an investigation.

During the weekend, Oleg Nilov, a Just Russia deputy in the city’s legislative assembly, had a truckload of saplings driven to the site. Residents planted about 40 of them in the park.

“People were so happy when they were planting those trees,” Gavrilova said. “And we are ready to stand up to protect our little green oasis.”

At the same time, Gavrilova said many residents still had doubts that the law would prevail, even though it is technically on their side.

“People really need laws that work in this country,” she said.

The conflict between the developers and the residents of the neighborhood has been going on for years.

The site was opened for construction in 2004, a decision that was immediately met with protests by local residents. The construction was to take place over part of a public park that local residents had planted themselves, at their own expense. They also complained that the site was already crowded and had very little space to accommodate a new building.

“Several years ago Severny Gorod built a residential building in our area, right on the spot where there used to be a district sports ground,” said Gavrilova. “They built a 16-story building instead of the 10-story building they had originally planned. It affected the electricity and water supplies in the neighboring buildings, because the engineering infrastructure of the area was not equipped for such demand.”

In 2007, the public park at Komendantsky Prospekt made it onto a list of green areas for public use that, under St. Petersburg law, were to be protected from future development.

However, in its press release on the case, Severny Gorod said its development of the area was fully within the law, and that it had received all necessary permission for construction.

The company referred to a law from 2004 that opened up city property for possible future development. They also said they had signed a contract in October 2004 with the city’s Real Estate Committee regarding the lease of the site at Komendantsky Prospekt.

The company is beginning construction on the site in accordance with permission given by St. Petersburg’s State Construction Review in 2006 and valid through 2010, said a representative of Severny Gorod.

In 2003, the project was brought up for public discussion, but no serious objections were raised at the time.

Natalya Shorina, a spokeswoman for Severny Gorod, said the company is aware of the 2007 city law that protects the area’s green space, and that in light of this law, Severny Gorod appealed to St. Petersburg’s arbitration court to solve the dispute.

“In September, the court recognized the supremacy of the previous laws, because they were signed earlier,” said Shorina.

“Therefore the company intends to exercise its legal right to build on the site,” she said.