In response to amendments requested by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing to a waterfront zoning study, the Tartous City Council has adopted new proposals that may lead to resolve the five-decade-old problem. Also, the new proposals may lead to implementing Law No. 23 of 2015, which concerns the implementation of zoning and urbanisation, within a small area along the waterfront.
The Tartous waterfront, which is 1,400 metres long and 30-130 metres wide, is currently occupied by worn-down homes and shops whose owners have since 1976 been barred from obtaining construction or renovation permits for their properties. In 1988, the city issued a new zoning plan with a 2,000 square-metres minimum surface area allotted for construction plots along the waterfront. However, that waterfront area contains many small real estate properties. An amended zoning plan issued for the city of Tartous in 2006 divides the waterfront into 27 zoning plots, each with a minimum total surface area of 900 square-metres. So far construction permits have been granted for five of the plots in accordance with the 2006 zoning plan, but construction yet to begin.
The Tartous City Council contracted Lattakia’s Tishreen University in 2018 to perform a new zoning study for the waterfront. The university released its study in 2019, increasing the number of seaside zoning plots to 80 and amending the minimum surface area per plot to 250 square-metres. Up to five real estate properties would be allowed within each plot, each of which has dozens of owners, occupants, heirs, and tenants. Indeed, as the number of zoning plots increases, so too does the “real estate entanglement” between rights holders, according to the official terminology of the problem.
The council approved the study in October 2019 in its Decision No. 102. In December of that year, it referred the study to its Regional Technical Committee and then to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing.
However, the ministry issued Letter No. 2557/S in March 2022 rejecting the Tishreen University zoning study and insisting that the number of zoning plots stick to the original plan’s 27. The ministry gave the Tartous City Council three options: Partially amending the Tishreen University study to adhere to the ministry’s comments, announcing a competition to submit a new waterfront zoning study, or forming a larger technical committee to include zoning experts who could reach alternative solutions.
The council chose the third option. In June 2022, it formed a special expanded committee comprised of technicians and experts to study the waterfront. They were tasked with proposing zoning and planning solutions for the area and presenting them to the city council. In the end, the committee proposed two phases for solving the issue:
The first phase would be a planning phase, which would include a study to divide the waterfront into 45 zoning plots allocated for construction. The plots would range from 800 to 1,200 square-metres each. This idea would serve as a compromise between the 27 plots desired by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing and the Tishreen University study’s 80 zoning plots.
The second phase would involve zoning. It would address a problem related to the 2006 zoning plan, which featured constructing a public street in the waterfront area that would impede on the properties of some rights holders. The city council had previously granted construction permits for five zoning plots on both sides of the planned street. To solve the problem, the committee suggested creating a zoning area in the location allocated for the street, in accordance with the provisions of Law No. 23 of 2015.
It is worth noting the Tartous City Council head’s response to a council member who objected to applying Law No. 23 along the seafront. He maintained that the options available to address the area range from expropriation to application of a law related to zoning, such as Law No. 23. The council head added that the solution to the waterfront street issue would stem from applying section two of Law No. 23, as the project would “achieve justice and appropriate compensation for the real estate owners, preserve city property, and solve the problem from its roots.”
Section two of the law focuses on zoning and may be applied in a number of cases, including in areas like the Tartous waterfront where the local authorities wish to implement detailed and general zoning plans. Meanwhile, section one of the law provides administrative units with other options that they may implement to areas containing informal housings. For example, administrative units may apply the provisions of either Real Estate Development and Investment Law No. 15 of 2008 (and its amendments) or the Expropriation Law.
The Tartous City Council head’s words about “justice and appropriate compensation for the real estate owners” appear inaccurate if the council apply section two of Law No. 23. The law allows administrative units to deduct land free of charge and without compensation from areas containing informal housing in order to implement any roads, plazas, parks, parking lots, public facilities, public housing units, and private service stations laid out within the approved general and detailed zoning plans.