Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

Ankvab promises compromise on high-rise construction in Sukhum

Last Friday, President Alexander Ankvab addressed the protests that erupted in December (as covered by ApsnyPress and EkhoKavkaza) over the construction of a 14-storey mixed-use building in the Sinop neighbourhood of Sukhum, along the Kodor highway. Opponents of the plan, led by publicist Nadezhda Venediktova, pointed out that a previous convocation of the City Council had imposed a 16 metre limit on new edifices in historic parts of town, which Venediktova has forcefully argued Sinop qualifies as (the neighbourhood was named after the Battle of Sinop, and after the Second World War housed German scientists like Manfred von Ardenne, Gustav Ludwig Hertz and Peter Adolf Thiessen working on the Soviet project to create a nuclear bomb). They called upon the developers of the site to abandon the current plans and construct three 5-storey buildings instead.

The current controversy matches and provides a concrete target for existing anger in Sukhum that the peaceful, historic character of the city is being squandered, mostly through the illegal demolition and anachronistic renovation of historic buildings — although of course it does not help when historic buildings also burn down, like the 1915 Post Office Building in the night of 30 and 31 January 2012.

The issue became sufficiently acute that on 21 December, the Public Chamber organised an inquiry into the matter. In it, City Mayor Alias Labakhua declared that the City Council had not had the authority to limit new buildings to a height of 16 metres.

Now, in his press conference on 18 January, President Ankvab declared that he in general dislikes high-rise buildings, and that he has spoken to the builder, who has agreed to limit the height of the complex to 6 to 8 floors.

In a way, the current episode is typical for Abkhazian politics. When controversy breaks out over some issue, the government will step in and try to take away whatever has aroused the public ire. On the one hand, in cases like the current one, this is undoubtedly a good thing. On the other hand, it cannot compensate for the government’s general weakness in tackling deeper lying problems. In the case at hand, while the developers may have been convinced to scale down their plans, it would have been better if this had happened not so much because the public demand for a 16-metre building limit happens to coincide with the personal preference of the President, but because it had taken the form of a binding piece of legislation.

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