A Thorn in Their Side

Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace on Gagarin Street, Petersburg
Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace on Gagarin Street, Petersburg, home of the European University

European University Faces Eviction for Plastic Windows
Maria Karpenko
Kommersant
January 24, 2017

The European University in St. Petersburg, one of the leading non-public educational institutions in Russia, may lose its building. Petersburg city hall has unilaterally terminated the lease agreement for the Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace, which has housed the university since 1995. The Smolny claims university management violated the conditions for using the historic building by making alterations and installing windows and air conditioners. Meanwhile, the university had been preparing to reconstruct the palace, investing 2.2 billion rubles in the project, 670 million rubles of which were to be spent on restoring the historic section of the building.

On December 27 of last year, the St. Petersburg City Committee for Property Relations (KIO) sent the European University notice it was unilaterally terminating the rental agreement. As a source at the committee told Kommersant, the European University hd not fulfilled its obligations to preserve the mansion of Count Kushelev-Bezborodko, built in the nineteenth century.

Officials discovered the violations last summer during an unscheduled inspection. (The Smolny could not explain yesterday why the inspection had been necessary.) As a source at the City Landmarks Use and Preservation Committee (KGIOP) informed Kommersant, university officials had made alterations to the premises and installed reinforced plastic windows and air conditioners without providing authorized documentation and obtaining permission for the repairs. The Dzerzhinsky District Court fined the European University 200,000 rubles in its capacity as user of a culture heritage site.

The Property Relations Committee then deemed it possible to terminate the lease agreement. The European University challenged the agreement’s termination in commercial court, arguing it was groundless. The court adopted interim measures, halting the university’s eviction from the premises until a decision has been made on the claim. The first hearing has been scheduled for March 15.

Meanwhile, the European University had planned in the near future to begin implementing an investment project for adapting the Kushelev-Bezborodko Palace to modern educational needs. The university estimates its cost at 2.2 to 2.4 billion rubles, 670 million rubles of which should go to restoring the historic section of the palace. The project has been in the works since 2013. Architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, designer of the Russian Cultural Center in Paris, won the competition to carry out the project. As European University Vice-Rector Vadim Volkov told Kommersant, the KGIOP had already partly authorized the reconstruction. (Our sources in the KGIOP confirmed that the methods for restoring the interiors of the palace that had artistic value had been approved.) Next week, the university had anticipated the KGIOP’s decision on the entire project.

“Given our intention to implement such an ambitious project, the KIO’s decision to evict us from the building on account of three windows, a plastic partition, and and extension that was erected under Brezhnev looks odd, at very least,” Mr. Volkov said.

The official statement on the university’s website stresses that none of  the violations uncovered during the inspection “put the cultural heritage of the palace at risk. They would be automatically corrected during the adjustment project as mentioned above.”

The statement goes on to say “[t]here is a degree of incommensurability between the claims of the Committee and the consequences entailed by the latter’s tough stance.”

Vice-Rector Volkov likewise noted that the clause giving the city the right to terminate the lease agreement if the university violated its landmark protection obligations had been added to the agreement only in April 2015 at the behest of the KIO.

“First, the KIO inserted these conditions in the agreement, and then showed up to check just this, certain they would be able to turn up violations of some kind,” Mr. Volkov suggested.

Maxim Reznik, chair of the education, culture and science committee in the city’s legislative assembly, believes the claims are politically motivated.

“Apparently, the presence of such a university, when all the rest have long ago been marching in step, keeps someone awake at night. In my view, the situation can be resolved in the university’s favor only if if the head of state [i.e., Vladimir Putin] or people close to him intervene,” the city MP told Kommersant.

In December of last year, Rosobrnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science) suspended the university’s license. The European University appealed to President Putin, who asked Vice-Premier Olga Golodets to get to the bottom of the matter. As Kommersant wrote, officials who attended a closed meeting concluded the claims were unsubstantial and spoke out in the university’s favor. Three days later, its educational license had been restored.

The university first encountered problems with oversight authorities in 2008, when it was closed for a month and a half [allegedly] for fire safety violations. Last summer, the Prosecutor General’s Office inspected the European University at the behest of Petersburg MP Vitaly Milonov. Prosecutors then gave the university two months to eliminate violations.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of saint-petersburg.com

Don’t Mind the View

Vista of Vasilyevsky Island’s Bolshoi Prospect Blocked by Western High-Speed Diameter Pylons
July 9, 2015
Kanoner

The pylons of a bridge currently under construction as part of the central segment of the Western High-Speed Diameter tollway have encroached on the vista of Vasilyevsky Island’s Bolshoi Prospect. People with good eyesight can see them from the First Line, on the far eastern end of the avenue.

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Fishermen say farewell to their view of the Baltic Sea on a warm May day as the Western High-Speed Diameter’s pylons emerge from the murky depths of the Gulf of Finland. Gavan, Vasilyevsky Island, Petrograd, May 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Construction of the tollway’s central segment, which links the Ekateringofka River Embankment and Primorsky Prospect, began in 2013. The general contractor is Northern Capital Thoroughfare, Ltd. The length of the segment is approximately twelve kilometers. According to the investment agreement, it it must be delivered in 2016.

The main segment of the highway will pass over the water on a flyover designed by Stroyproyekt Institute JSC. One part of the thoroughfare is a cable bridge spanning the shipping fairway in the mouth of the Neva River. Pylons are now being erected for the bridge. Two of them are exactly aligned with Bolshoi Prospect on Vasilyevsky Island, it turns out. They are clearly visible both from Gavan (the western section of Vasilyevsky) and from the first Lines, and this despite the fact that currently they have been built to a little over half their projected full height.

google-spb view
Recent Google satellite image showing the emerging cable bridge section of the Western High-Speed Diameter tollway, the mouth of the Neva River, and the southwestern tip of Vasilyevsky Island, including Bolshoi Prospect

Earlier, concerns were voiced that the size of the Western High-Speed Diameter was insufficient, and therefore tall-masted sailing ships would be unable to sail into the Neva under the new cable bridge. But this viewpoint was not heeded.

The emergence of new buildings and facilities in the vistas of historic streets is not a rarity in Petersburg. The sky above the Nicholas Children’s Hospital, at the end of Chapygin Street, has been completely occluded by the high-rises of the Europe City residential complex (developed by LSR). The vista of Poltava Street has now been blocked by the Tsar’s Capital residential complex (LenspetsSMU, developer), and the new residential building Hovard Palace (Hovard SPb, Ltd., developers) is twice as high as the surrounding built environment and has thus emerged above the skyline at the beginning of Socialist Street.

tsars' capital-render
Artist’s rendering of Tsar’s Capital residential complex, currently under construction near the Moscow Station in downtown Petersburg. Image courtesy of LenSpetsSMU developers

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Hovard Palace Residential Building Encroaches on Vista of Socialist Street
May 13, 2015
Kanoner

Hovard Palace, a residential building currently under construction at Zagorodny Prospect, 19, has significantly encroached on the vista of Socialist Street. It has also changed the look of neighboring Jambyl Lane.

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Hovard Palace, currently under construction, rises high above the end of Socialist Street. It is clearly visible from the other end of the street, half a kilometer away. Photo by the Russian Reader
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Hovard Palace towers above a a square named in memory of the revered Kazakh traditional folk singer Jambyl Jambayev, situated on a lane bearing his name. Photo by the Russian Reader

To make way for the elite complex, a pre-Revolutionary building originally designed as a block of rented flats for State Bank employees was demolished. The five-storey house was built in 1898–1901 and designed by architect Heinrich Bertels.  After investor Hovard SPb, Ltd., took an interest in the site (according to rumors, the company has personal ties to former Petersburg governor and current Federation council chair Valentina Matviyenko), residents of the dormitory that had been housed in the Bertels building were forcibly evicted to the village of Shushary, outside the Petersburg city limits. [Translator’s Note. The June 2012 linked to here paints a slightly more complicated picture of how the now-demolished building was resettled.]

City hall officials categorized the forced relocation as having public significance. This was preceded by a personal memorandum from Valentina Matviyenko, in which she wrote, “The site has public significance. Work to find a solution.” The memorandum was addressed to three deputy governors.

This “public significance” made it possible for Hovard SPb to avoid complying several provisions of the law. In particular, it was allowed to demolish the building (although the demolition of pre-Revolutionary buildings is expressly forbidden), and construct the new building higher than stipulated by local height zoning regulations. The environmental impact analysis was conducted by Devros, Ltd., which is directly linked to one of Valentina Matviyenko’s people, Alexei Komlev, ex-deputy chair of the city’s Landmarks Use and Preservation Committee (KGIOP). The analysis show that the new building would be visible behind neighboring buildings, but within tolerable limits.

The eight-storey [sic] residential building was designed by Moscow architect Mikhail Belov. Soyuz 55, Ltd., run by Alexander Viktorov, former chief architect of Petersburg, adapted Belov’s design to local conditions [sic].

Hovard Palace
Rendering of Hovard Palace, which the caption, in Russian, says contains nine storeys. Image courtesy of Novostroy-Spb.ru

Now, as the upper floors are being erected, they are clearly visible from the surrounding streets. The building’s impact has been especially acute on the vista of Socialist Street. And from the intersection of Zagorodny Prospect and Socialist Street one can see that the eight-storey building has risen above the cour d’honneur of Simonov House (Zagorodny, 21–23), which forms a small side street.

The look of Jambyl Lane has changed as well. Jambyl Square, containing the monument to Jambyl, looks different, and the bard himself now strums his lute against the backdrop of the new building.

The developer promises to deliver Hovard Palace in the late summer.

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Hovard Palace and environs, July 16, 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

Translated by the Russian Reader