The process for expanding the zoning plan for Al-Tal in the Rural Damascus governorate appears to be nearing completion decades after it began. However, the expansion has caused negative impacts on housing, land, and property rights.
The expansion area extends over about 500 hectares of land, approximately the current surface area of Al-Tal. There are 3,081 plots within the expansion area that are allotted for construction. The extension will be located mainly to the northwest of the current city boundaries, as well as two smaller areas south and west of Al-Tal.
Al-Tal is the urban centre of a district that belongs administratively to the Rural Damascus governorate and was home to around 150,000 people before 2011. Today, approximately 300,000 people live in the city, of which a large portion are internally displaced from other areas in Syria.
The land included within the expansion area was zoned in accordance with the principle of compulsory land readjustment, which stipulates the redistribution of land to the rights holders, but not usually in their original locations. The rights holders are not given the right to choose the locations of their new plots of land. As part of the redistribution process, the local administrative unit deducts a percentage of the area of these properties without compensation in return for the supposed benefit incurred to the rights holder who is handed property within the newly zoned area. The principle of compulsory land readjustment appears in many planning, zoning, and expropriation laws in Syria.
On February 23, the Al-Tal City Council announced that the Compulsory Land Readjustment Committee had finished redistributing properties located within the expansion zone in accordance with Planning and Urban Development Law No. 23 of 2015. Under the 2015 law, the Compulsory Land Readjustment Committee is formed by decree of the Minister of Justice. The committee appraises the value of each plot of land within a zoning plan. The process of zoning the area ends with distributing the properties therein to rights holders according to the number of shares they own.
Together with its announcement the city council produced a chart that displays the rights holders’ names, newly distributed plots of land, the surface areas of those plots, and plans for distribution. The council also issued the appraised values of the plots within the expanded zone. The values varied widely, with the lowest at SYP 200,000 per square metre and the highest at SYP 573,000. The value of properties closest to the city centre of Al-Tal appears to be higher than those further away from the centre.
The city council gave rights holders one month to present any objections to the redistribution.
Expansion of Al-Tal’s zoning plan dates back to 1995 and has always been tied to the issue of compulsory land readjustment for properties located within the expansion zone. Major issues arose over the fact that the actual blueprints for the areas located within the planned expansion did not match the expansion zone’s compulsory readjustment plan. The case was sent to the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs for a solution.
In 2018, the Al-Tal City Council issued a so-called “exceptional announcement” that it had released details of the expansion to the city zoning plan and was open to hearing objections. An exceptional announcement is usually made before the regular date for issuing zoning plans. The governor of Rural Damascus approved the Al-Tal expansion in 2020. Afterwards, all that remained was for the Compulsory Land Readjustment Committee to finish its duties.
Finally, in January 2022, the process of appraising the plots of land within the expansion was complete, after which the committee began determining which plots would be given to each rights holders, as well as where they would be located.
The committee worked surprisingly quickly, completing the process in February. However, the announcement was marred by a slew of objections that appeared on social media. The Syria Report could not verify the objections, though some are worth mentioning.
One social media commenter wrote that his new property was located eight kilometres away from his original property and is now far from the city centre, lowering its value. Another person wrote that their original property was 900 square metres, while the new one was only 290 square metres. Under Law No. 23 of 2015, no more than 40 percent of a property’s surface area may be deducted during the land readjustment process. Finally, another person wrote that the land readjustment caused their family’s properties to be physically dispersed, with each household receiving a plot of land far from the others.
The Compulsory Land Readjustment Committee will study the objections that were submitted within the one-month deadline and then issue a decision on the distribution of the plots to the rights holders. This decision, however, is subject to appeal before the Civil Court of Appeals, which makes a final and unchallengeable decree. Afterwards, the administrative unit will notify the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs to register the new ownership rights in accordance with the redistribution scheme.
It is notable that all of the people who were found to have objected to the Al-Tal expansion plan on social media are men. This fact raises concerns about the extent to which women rights holders have access to the plans and charts that were posted in the city council hall, as well as their knowledge of their rights, including the right to object to these plans should they disagree with the results of the Compulsory Land Readjustment Committee.
The Al-Tal city expansion plan
Source: Al-Tal City Council