Hundreds of concerned St. Petersburg residents and preservationists gathered in the historic Lopukhinsky Gardens on Saturday to protest plans to build a multistory hotel on the site.
Last April, an area within the small scenic park located on the Petrograd Side was stripped of its state heritage status and sold for an extremely small sum to the private developer RBI, which opened the way for the garden’s destruction, preservationists say. They claim a number of laws were broken in the privatization process.
City Hall is now set to exclude the plot from the city’s register of public green areas, which could make construction work imminent.
The developer argues that the 4,586-square-meter plot, which covers the territory surrounding the abandoned Stalin-era boathouse, is not part of the Lopukhinsky Gardens and is located “nearby,” RBI’s press officer said Monday.
Following a series of protests last year, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko said that there would be no construction in the Lopukhinsky Gardens. “The city will not allow any construction work here, even if this territory is owned by a private proprietor,” she was quoted as saying on City Hall’s official web site in October.
In December, however, City Hall’s town-planning and architecture committee issued RBI with a permit for the construction of a hotel up to 33 meters in height on the land.
“The owner owns a piece of land, and it’s natural that they want to build something on it,” Matviyenko was quoted by Novaya Gazeta as saying in January.
“But this private piece of land has nothing to do with the territory of the Lopukhinsky Gardens; it is beyond their border,” she added.
On Saturday, from 250 to 300 protesters gathered to call for construction to be called off and for Matviyenko’s dismissal.
The price for which the site was sold has provoked questions. According to the web site of City Hall’s land resources and land management committee, the 4,586-square-meter site was sold for 274,265.72 rubles ($9,356) — or 59.8 rubles ($2) per square meter.
According to Alexander Karpov, director of the ECOM Center of Expertise, the deal was illegal.
“The law on public-access green areas, which clearly designated the gardens as a public territory, had already been in force for two years by the time the deal was done,” he said by phone Monday.
“The privatization of public territories is forbidden by federal law. Basically, the privatization of a plot that partly encroaches on public territory is against the law — that’s the essence of the outrage that is happening now.”
Karpov said he could not see any way in which the hotel could be built and operate on the site without affecting the rest of the park.
“All this is one big con game, undertaken in the hopes of getting permission to destroy the Lopukhinsky Gardens further,” he said Monday.
Legislative Assembly deputy Sergei Malkov has written a letter to the city’s prosecutor asking him to look into the legality of the plot’s privatization and annul it if it is found to be illegal.
Dating back to the early 19th century, the Lopukhinsky Gardens are a tranquil green zone in a prestigious area of the Petrograd Side near the Kamennoostrovsky Bridge on the bank of the Malaya Nevka River. The land was part of the estate of Count Pyotr Lopukhin (1753–1827), after whom it is named.
“It’s important to obey the law,” artist and human rights activist Yuly Rybakov said by phone Monday.
“By law, the Lopukhinsky Gardens are a cultural heritage project and were also part of the green zone, when all of a sudden, at the whim of the investors, a section of the park was cut off and then a statement was made saying that this land has nothing to do with the park. That’s not supported by anything.
“There’s no reason to cut off this section — it can only be accessed through the territory of the park, it’s all surrounded by trees and is a single complex. It’s a very pleasant area that is loved by locals. It’s an arbitrary decision obviously taken on behalf of business.”
Rybakov, who described the hotel design as an “ugly iron-and-glass box,” expressed concern about the fate of the Lopukhinsky Gardens as a whole.
“If a hotel appears there, then a parking lot will appear, then a restaurant, then a VIP zone — and the garden will cease to exist as a garden altogether.”
You can view Sergey Chernov’s full photo reportage of the Saturday protest here.