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Probe into legal mess after zoning changes

Photo: CNA

The interior ministry is seeking guidance from the attorney-general on how to untangle a legal mess created after zoning changes were made to agricultural land in Kouklia, Paphos, changes which greenlit commercial development at a location bordering a protected area.

In a statement on Thursday, the ministry said also that it has decided to appoint two senior civil servants to conduct an administrative probe into the whole affair, highlighted in a special report by auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides.

The ministry is seeking legal guidance from the attorney-general in order to avoid the scenario of being sued by a company which owns land adjacent to the rezoned land in Kouklia. The company is understood to be a well-known developer with a great deal of clout.

The case dates back to May 2007, when the cabinet issued a decision where private lands in the Akamas were to be swapped with state-owned land in Kouklia.

The latter consisted of agricultural land and forest, so as an incentive to the private owners in the Akamas, the state lands in Kouklia were rezoned as commercial.

The land exchange itself never materialized and in June 2018, at the auditor-general’s insistence, the cabinet revoked the 2007 swap decision.

However, the zoning change in Kouklia was not likewise rescinded and it is still in effect today, meaning that commercial development is on paper allowed there.

The rezoning decided in 2007 applied not only to the state lands in Kouklia earmarked for the swap but also to adjacent land already owned by a real estate developer.

In the meantime, in 2016 the developer in question applied for plot separations in order to start building.

The application to separate the plots is currently under assessment by the department of the environment, due to the fact that the site borders with, or is in extremely close proximity to, two distinct Natura 2000 protected areas.

The rezoning meanwhile has driven up the value of the developer’s adjacent land.

The auditor-general has advised the government that, given the original land swap itself has been revoked, the rezoning decision for Kouklia should likewise be invalidated. In effect, the Audit Office says the land in question should be rezoned back into agricultural, as it had been before.

But that move would impact the value of the adjacent land belonging to the private company, which would open the government up to a lawsuit, with the developer seeking compensation from the state.

Speaking to the press on Thursday, Audit Office official Marios Petrides said the affair smacks of an attempt by some to game the system in order to extract financial gain from the rezoning.

 

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