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Opposition to the construction of a recreational complex in Dighomi Forest Park escalated on 13–14, as activists and local residents staged an overnight protest.
Several dozen local residents and environmental activists camped overnight from 13–14 July in protest of plans to build a large recreational complex inside the park. Holding aloft placards and singing protest songs, the group called on the Tbilisi Municipality to cancel the permit and place the territory under municipal ownership.
In 2018, the Mayor’s office of Tbilisi approved a permit for the Anagi construction company to build the Orangery recreational complex on the location of a KIA car-service centre (which Anagi also owns) within the park. The complex, 12 meters tall and covered in glass, according to Anagi, would host ‘exhibitions, concerts and celebrations’.
‘We want less concrete here’, Tamar Jakeli, an environmental activist and member of the Young Greens movement told OC Media. ‘There’s a lack of green spaces in the city while commercial zones are in abundance.’
She said that the existing car park was bad enough but that replacing it with a larger recreational complex would only worsen the situation. She said that she would prefer that the car park be demolished and trees planted in its place.
‘I got involved in this kind of activism in 2003. Back then they were building houses here.’ Ana Gabriadze, a lifelong resident of the Dighomi neighbourhood and an activist with the Safe Space environmental organisation, told OC Media. ‘This territory has been a recreational zone, I believe, since 1931. The KIA car-service centre was built about 20 years ago, therefore it was constructed illegally’.
Safe Space appealed the construction permit in court over a year ago — the appeals process is still ongoing.
Giorgi Antadze, a lawyer with the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), who is providing legal aid to Safe Space, told OC Media that in 2006, the Tbilisi City Assembly adopted a resolution according to which the whole territory of the Dighomi Forest Park was designated a Special Green Zone and was therefore ineligible for any new construction.
A copy of the resolution, provided to OC Media by Antadze confirmed the designation.
Kartlos Tetrauli, the head of the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office Architecture Department, told OC Media that the 2006 resolution was superseded in 2009, after the Tbilisi City Assembly approved a new ‘general plan’ for the city’s development.
This document, according to Tetrauli, gave the future location of the recreational complex the status of ‘public-business zone 2’, in which certain types of construction are permitted.
An online map hosted by the Architecture Department has the Dighomi Forest Park labelled as a Special Green Zone, though the site of the recreational complex is designated ‘public-business zone 3’, which also allows certain types of construction.
When asked if the Architecture Department’s map was accurate in light of the overlapping and contradictory designations, Tetrauli replied that the map was indeed ‘truthful’, though ‘it is probable’ that outdated information ‘remains on the website’
OC Media reached out to the Tbilisi City Assembly to clarify whether their 2006 resolution was still in effect, however, they declined to provide an answer without an official public request being made.
Giorgi Antadze was adamant that the document granting the park the status of Special Green Zone remains active, and that the construction of a recreational complex was illegal.
He said that the status of public-business zone is not viable while the territory is protected under the Special Green Zone status. He also said that the Mayor’s Office made a special exception for Anagi, and had rejected other applicants demanding construction permits in the park with the argument that ‘this territory is a significant recreational zone’.
According to Ifact, an investigative journalism platform, Anagi is also involved in two controversial projects associated with current Chair of the Ruling Georgian Dream Party and former Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili — Panorama Tbilisi and the transplantation of rare trees throughout the country to his personal arboretum.
The Architecture Department of the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office told OC Media in a statement that the resolution which designated the park as a Special Green Zone is no longer in force: ‘The fact that the Tbilisi City Assembly’s 2006 resolution #41 is currently inactive is proven by court rulings regarding the use of land which abuts this territory ’.
Update 20 July 2019: OC Media has received an update regarding the status of Tbilisi City Assembly’s 2006 resolution, by which the whole territory of the Digomi Forest Part was declared a Special Green Zone and therefore, ineligible for any new construction.
Tbilisi City Assembly told OC Media that their 2006 resolution was no longer valid and that there were no legal grounds for issuing a separate document regarding the abolishment of its validity.
However, the Tbilisi City Assembly stressed that ‘most of the park territory maintains the status of Landscape-Recreational zone […where…] any kind of construction is forbidden’.
According to an online map provided by the Tbilisi Mayor’s Office Architecture Department, the whole territory of the park except for the designated construction area maintains the status of Landscape-Recreational zone.
[Read about environmental activists’ victory against construction in Vake Park: Environmental activists celebrate win in 6-year battle against Vake Park hotel]