Okhta Loses Heritage Status

Okhta Loses Heritage Status

Published: October 5, 2011 (Issue # 1677)

Preservationists have appealed in an open letter to new city governor Georgy Poltavchenko asking him to prevent the demolition of a heritage site on the Okhta cape and to dismiss officials who failed to protect what they describe as “The Troy of St. Petersburg” — the remains of the Nienschanz and Landskrona medieval Swedish fortresses, as well as a Neolithic settlement discovered on the site.

Last week, City Hall’s Heritage Protection Committee (KGIOP) lost a court case concerning the boundaries of the heritage site at Okhta to ODS Okhta, the subsidiary of state oil giant Gazprom in charge of the site, as reports emerged about Gazprom’s new plans to use the plot for commercial development.

On Sept. 28, the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Arbitration Court annulled the KGIOP’s Dec. 22, 2010 resolution, which established the zones of the heritage site at Okhta, preventing Gazprom from using the plot for commercial development.

Opponents say that work endangering the heritage site may now start at any moment, and accuse KGIOP’s head Vera Dementyeva of being ineffective in defending the site and of even acting in the interests of Gazprom. They are calling for her dismissal, along with that of several other KGIOP officials.

Preservationists propose that an archeological park should be established on the site to preserve the findings.

Gazprom said it would sell the plot and put up advertisements on the fence surrounding the site and on ODS Okhta’s web site after then-governor Valentina Matviyenko annulled her own 2009 permit to build a controversial 403-meter skyscraper on the plot. Matviyenko’s about-turn followed public protests and opposition from UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture in December.

“After the trial, virtually the entire territory of the Okhta Cape has been left unprotected,” said the Yabloko Democratic Party’s Boris Vishnevsky, a long-time opponent of the once-planned Gazprom skyscraper and author of the book “No to the Tower! St. Petersburg against Gazprom’s skyscraper,” which documented years of protests against the project.

Speaking Tuesday, Vishnevsky alleged that ODS Okhta and officials acted in cahoots in the matter.

Vishnevsky and two activists from the preservationist group Living City are currently suing the KGIOP for “failure to act.”

“The KGIOP seems to have no desire to take these findings regarding the protection and include them in the state register of cultural heritage objects,” he said.

The next hearing in the case is due on Oct. 10.

The press officer for ODS Okhta declined to comment on the preservationists’ demands, saying that the company does not have the text of the open letter.

“No final decision has been taken and the fate of the site will be decided after all the trials regarding this site are finished and relevant expert analysis has been conducted,” she said.

She added that the realization of an investment project involving external investors and professional developers is being considered as one of the options for using the plot of land. But she said that it was too early to speak about any parameters or purpose of the project.

KGIOP declined to comment on the developments Tuesday, requesting a written inquiry for consideration later in the week.

There had been no response from Poltavchenko to the open letter as this newspaper went to print late Tuesday.

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