Protected green urban areas

The Municipal council here in Sofia is the authority to accept major regulation city plan, which regulates the different planning areas within the Sofia Municipality, for the purposes of its management. These are - areas for residential construction, areas for public management (for public needs), areas for green areas, etc. The major (common) regulation plans are compulsory for the public and private land owners and have to be obeyed by them. For example, there are serious building restrictions and prohibitions for urban territories which have got “green space” protection. According to our Laws, when private property has been included unilaterally by the Authorities in the new main regulation plan as green area (to serve the public needs for urban green space), then it should be expropriated (taken) by the municipality, against payment of compensation towards the landowner.

The problem arises with the extraordinary term, stipulated in art.17 of the specific Act for management and building in Sofia Municipality, for expropriation of the green plots (and respectively pay compensation for it to its landowners) – namely 15 (fifteen) years as of the said Act of legislation has entered in force (in 2007). This means that for a period of 15 years, any property owner, whose plot receives “green area status” will not be allowed to exercise in full their ownership rights, i.e. they cannot use without limits their land, because the new “green” legal status has been given to it without possibility for appeal. On the other hand, they do not have any legal instrument to force the Municipality to expropriate the land against paying compensation, because the Law is clear – 15 years deadline for paying compensation. So these particular private landowners are not legally able to claim any damages until this term expires. Not to mention the fact that a land plot with given “urban green space” status is not attractive for any investor due to construction restrictions. There is a city part in Sofia for example, which includes many plots of land totally amounting to tens of thousands square meters, recently listed as “green open space” with a new common plan entered in force 2009. Obviously Sofia Municipality does not have enough money to compensate so many private owners for expropriation of their plots with given “green space” status. Therefore such huge 15-years deadline for expropriation and compensation, in my view has been established to give the Authorities unfair supreme position against the citizens, and it conflicts with the interests of the involved real estate owners.

This is a serious shortcoming of the mentioned local legislation, because on one hand it harms the legal and financial interests of private landowners whose plot’s legal status has been changed to “green urban area”, and on the other hand it details a method implemented in the local legislation, of dominancy of the local official Authorities over the citizens. So if they ask me what do I presume will happen after expiration of the 15-years deadline for expropriation (and paying compensation) of private plots listed as green areas, then I would bet that a new 15-years deadline will be proclaimed by the local lawmakers. I personally support development of green city areas, but its establishment should not be done via tying the hands of the local citizens who own plots with changed unilaterally by the Municipality legal status to “urban green spaces”.

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