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Elderly lady bribed by real estate developer?

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PHOTO: Eskiis.

Again, former Arts Academy lot in central Tallinn behind the Kaubamaja department store has crossed the news threshold. Turns out, the new land owner has planned buildings even higher and bigger than envisioned by academy five years back.

PHOTO: Eskiis.
PHOTO: Pm

On part of said Tartu Highway No 1, there now towers the 23 storey office building City Plaza erected in 2004. A year ago, owners of the building bought the rest of the lot which had belonged to Arts Academy, and arranged a new architectural competition. The two works currently competing prescribe yet another tower for the area – seven stories higher than City Plaza i.e. 30 floors tall.

Also, the new building would be twice as high as the new academic facilities planned by the academy in 2011. The 15-storey contemporary ART PLAZA designed by Danish architecture bureaus Sea and Efekt greatly upset the neighbours. Especially angry was owner of Tartu Highway No 7, Ester palm born in 1929. The house belonging to her was built by her father, a merchant Jaan Tedre, in 1938 and it was returned to her at the beginning of 1990ies.

The lady went to court against Arts Academy for quite a while and kept losing the disputes.

But the current land owner City Plaza must ask for opinion of Ms Palm as well. Has the real estate developer bribed her or, even worse, did they collude with the old lady for years to chase Arts Academy off the desired lot? These are the speculations of late. How come the 16 stories were unacceptable on the lot next door, but 30 are altogether okay?

Unwilling to issue a public comment, Ester Palm said via a representative Andry Krass that her stand stands unaltered. «As I wrote in Postimees a few years ago,» was her reply. «And, secondly, there are no agreements with City Plaza which would alter initial agreement.»

What does Ms Palm mean by initial agreement? That was with Arts Academy, in 2001 and confirmed by detailed plan that Tartu Highway No 1 may have one 26-storey building and another of 9 storeys.

«I have never been against the new Academy building on the lot if it is done according to former agreements, current legislation and good will,» Ms Palm wrote five years ago. Even now, she affirmed via her representative that she wished the agreement entered 15 years ago to be upheld. Some people who know Ms Palm have said a reason for the lengthy procedures was the occasionally arrogant attitude of the Academy towards the neighbour, casting her as enemy of the arts. Via the representative, Ms Palm added she has communicated with City Plaza representatives, but not actively so.

Despite the disputes with the steadfast neighbour, however, the grand plans of the Academy flopped due to lack of money as an EU grant of €12m was withdrawn.

Education ministry says building and upkeep were growing way over what had been planned and large financial risks were assessed; also, the planning begun in boom times while by the time of the building we were in crisis. Meanwhile, the deadlines of the EU money had been missed.

In a word: legally the academy might still have built the house despite protests by Ester Palm, but they had not the money. At the moment, the academy is renovating another building in Kalamaja and intends use of it starting 2017.

The new owner of Tartu Highway No 1, City Plaza, has in April filed for new detailed plan. First, social land needs to be declared business land. The city government says they will be discussing the area first and the initial feeling is the project is too large. And there will be the pedestrian and traffic issues. They vow a thorough analysis.

City Plaza refused to comment.

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