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Old October 31st, 2006, 11:48 PM   #1
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Government suspends permits for erection of Gemmayzeh high-rises

BEIRUT: The government put the brakes on the development of 10 controversial residential towers in the historic Gemmayzeh district this week, following a nearly two-month-long public outcry against Beirut's urban planning authority for its approval of construction permits for the proposed buildings.

Public Works and Transport Minister Mohammad Safadi confirmed that the projects are on hold and that the government was "re-evaluating its previous decision about the towers."

Permits for the towers were never finalized after the acting district governor of Beirut, Nassif Qaloush, whose signature is required for authorization, held off granting landowners' requests amid the controversy.

Over the past two months at least 2,400 people have signed a petition addressed to Premier Fouad Siniora and the Public Works and Transport Ministry protesting the decision to green-light the high-rises.

The buildings conflict with new regulations adopted by the Higher Council of Urbanism (DGU) on September 13 to preserve Gemmayzeh's "historic character," the petition says.

According to local architect Habib Debs, one of the organizers of the petition, the DGU approved permits for the high-rises in August, just one week before completing its year-long study of design standards to govern future construction. The study led to the lifting of a freeze on building permits in the area.

"Everyone was relieved because for the first time in the modern history of Beirut a law was passed to preserve a part of the capital's heritage, but one week later we heard that towers were to be exempted from new regulations," Debs said in a phone interview.

He said he had no idea why the DGU had decided to issue permits for buildings that conflicted with regulations the council itself had imposed.

"We are only asking that either all buildings are subject to regulations in keeping with DGU's study, or that all owners be allowed to build sky scrapers, but they can't give rights to some and not others," Debs said.

Culture Minister Tarek Mitri made a similar request to Safadi in a letter, asking the Cabinet to revoke the building permits and uniformly enforce DGU regulations for all construction projects planned for Gemmayzeh.

Mitri and Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis intensified pressure on the government last week, heading a delegation of engineers, architects, and heritage activists in a meeting about the contested permits with Siniora. According to a Friday report in Beirut daily An-Nahar, attendees said Siniora supported the "principles" of preserving Gemmayzeh's historic character and uniformly enforcing the DGU standards.

An-Nahar said Siniora also agreed to extend the DGU study of Gemmayzeh for another year - freezing building permits for the duration of the study. Siniora's office confirmed the meeting had taken place, but refused to elaborate on its outcome and referred The Daily Star to Mitri, who was not available for comment.

Debs is expecting a decision on the fate of the 10 towers sometime this week. At the moment the government has put the permits on hold while it debates a series of options, including the extension the DGU study.

"The study needs to be extended because the measures that are in place now were completed too quickly. I mean there are only seven points or something," Debs said in reference to DGU's existing criteria.

Gemmayzeh real-estate developer Karim Bassil said developers should honor the traditional, Ottoman-influenced design schemes of Gemmayzeh, but that extending the study is not the ideal solution.

Bassil was granted a permit to build towers exceeding 20 stories on a plot of land he owns in Gemmayzeh, a prerogative he will not exercise out of respect of the new standards.

"They [developers] think they have to build higher to get sea views, but the land values will be much higher if they preserve the character of the neighborhood," Bassil said.

"I'm going to build eight or nine stories max," he added, "and I think other developers should do the same thing."
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Old October 31st, 2006, 11:58 PM   #2
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Gr8 news,Bravo our governement i signed the petition to protect Gemmayzeh
this is what makes beirut special
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Old November 1st, 2006, 12:29 AM   #3
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Excellent news !!
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Old November 1st, 2006, 01:57 AM   #4
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Excellent news! I can't believe the government is actually working to help preserving the city's character.
بحبك يا لبنان

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Old November 1st, 2006, 02:13 AM   #5
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is there any pics of that place ive never been there before
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Old November 2nd, 2006, 06:54 AM   #6
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YESSSS!!! great news!!! yea I signed the treaty too!!!
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