Latest legal challenge against Greece's biggest real estate development project emerges

Thursday, 05 October 2017 10:49

The "Whac-A-Mole-like" legal and bureaucratic hurdles faced by the landmark Helleniko privatization continued on Wednesday with the first legal arguments heard in a lawsuit by 10 plaintiffs demanding that more buildings at the former Athens airport be declared "modern monuments".

The lawsuit was filed at the Council of State (CoS), Greece's highest administrative court, and the hearing came less than 24 hours after a culture ministry-affiliated council designated between 280 and 350 hectares of the 620-hectare site as an area of "archaeological interest". A precise calculation of the area will reportedly come with the release of detailed maps by the relevant Central Archaeological Council (KAS).

The latest legal challenge is directed at a decision by another culture ministry-affiliated council. The Central Council of Modern Monuments declined to declare more buildings at the site as "modern monuments", beyond those already cited in a MoC between the ministry and the international consortium that won a tender to develop the coastal southeast Athens site.

A court ruling is expected by the end of the year.

Plaintiffs in the case include members of an unofficial community group long opposed to the privatization and any commercial exploitation of the disused airport and adjacent tracts of state-owned land.

Anti-capitalist and far-left political activists are among the chief opponents of the project, considered as the biggest real estate development in the Mediterranean basin and probably in Europe.

Among the plaintiffs is a former candidate for Athens mayor, Eleni Portaliou, who was backed by leftist SYRIZA when the party still polled single digits in general elections. Another plaintiff is former alternate economy and development minister Nadia Valavani, a long-time leftist politician who fled (now ruling) SYRIZA in the wake of the signing of the third memorandum in the summer of 2015.

Plaintiffs want the culture ministry to reverse the previous decision and declare the nondescript west terminal, a control tower and five 1930s-era buildings of the one-time American College for Girls as modern monuments with historical or architectural significance.

Several buildings have already been designated as such, with the Lamda Development-led consortium in full agreement.

Specifically, designated modern architectural monuments at the current site are divided into three sections. The first section includes the east terminal building, which was designed by celebrated Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. The latter's most famous works include the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the TWA flight center at JFK Airport in New York City.

The east terminal was designated as a modern monument in 2006, judged as important for its specific architectural characteristics and for the study of the history architecture. In the development plan submitted by the consortium that won the tender for the land development project, the terminal is projected to be used as an exhibition center.

 A second section of modern monuments includes three reinforced military jet hangars, called "special constructions, and significant for the study of industrial architecture" in Greece and the history of the Hellenic Air Force. Both the terminal and the hangars will lie within the boundaries of a large metropolitan park that will be built on site.

Finally, another hangar, known as the "Pagoda", was also designated as a modern monument, with the council saying its architectural style is unique in the country. 

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