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Hearing on Okhta Center Pushed Back

A St. Petersburg court on Monday postponed for a week the hearing of a lawsuit contesting the city government’s decision to allow the construction of the 400-meter Okhta Center, a controversial skyscraper that critics say will mar the city’s skyline.

Okhta Center, the company building the tower, requested extra time to study additional arguments made by the liberal Yabloko party, said Maxim Reznik, a Yabloko member who filed the suit in the Smolninsky District Court in September.

“The construction of the Okhta Center is planned on the territory where the Nienshants Fortress was located and where archeological excavations are still being held,” Reznik told the Moscow Times.

The tower would stand on the site of a 13th-century fortification and a 17th-century fortress, which were uncovered during archeological excavations in the past three years.

Local authorities said construction had not yet started, but Reznik said he thought that building had already begun.

In a preliminary hearing Oct. 26, the court declined to suspend construction on the tower throughout the period of the trial.

“It won’t be a quick trial, we don’t expect that it will be over next week,” Reznik said.

St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, a longtime supporter of the tower, signed off on its construction last month. She later said the final decision on the Okhta Center, which is to serve as the headquarters for Gazprom Neft, had not yet been made and that the project itself had to go through “serious government assessment.”

In order for the tower to be built, the city government had to waive a city ordinance requiring that the height of any building constructed near the city center not exceed 100 meters.

The construction of the skyscraper has occasioned a rare government split, with Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev coming out against it and Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov calling it “crazy.”

“With the Okhta skyscraper, St. Petersburg will be just another city,” Mironov said in a statement on his web site, adding that the federal government and not the city authorities should make the final decision on its construction.

Just 23 percent of St. Petersburg residents back the construction of the Okhta Center, compared with 50 percent who oppose it and 20 percent who are undecided, according to a survey conducted by state-run VTsIOM last month.

“As with every illegal decision, the decision to build the Okhta Center was made without consulting the people. We are going to get access through the court to documents concerning the construction to get more people informed,” Reznik said.

An online petition opposing the construction has already collected more than 30,000 signatures.

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