The governor of Damascus recently met with the owners of some plots of the Marota City project to listen to their problems and work towards solutions, according to the Damascus Governorate’s official website. Present at the meeting was the head of the Decree No. 66 Implementation Directorate, which is affiliated with the Damascus Governorate.
The meeting, attended by the governor in his capacity as head of the Damascus Cham Holding company, followed the announcement that the framework for the first tower in the Marota City construction project had been completed – tower “Delta H47.” Damascus Cham Holding Private JSC is a private joint-stock company tasked with managing and investing in Damascus governorate property. The company was founded in 2016 based on Decree No. 19 of 2015, which allows local authorities to create joint-stock companies to manage governorate properties by proposal from the governorate council.
The Delta H47 tower was the first to obtain a construction permit in the Marota City project in 2019. Construction began in October that same year. Delta H47 features three basement levels, a ground floor, and 12 storeys containing a total of 38 apartments.
The pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan published an article on the latest developments in Marota City, in which it quoted real estate expert Ammar Al-Qaisi. After the article was published, controversy broke out on social media between Delta H47 executive engineer Wael Al-Shammat and Al-Qaisi. Some general observations can be drawn from the discussion between the two men:
First, there are contradictions in the data that the Damascus Governorate published about the total number of plots prepared for construction in Marota City, as well as the number of construction licences that were granted and the time limits given for implementation. Plots prepared for construction have a specific area of land large enough to fit one building block and are granted to owners or investors. There are between 226 and 275 such plots of land and they fall into three categories: residential, commercial, and investment. The only certain figure is that of Damascus Cham Holding’s share, which constitutes 69 such plots of land.
Second, statistics differ on the number of construction licences that have been granted in Marota City, ranging from 40 to 67 licences. Only 35 licences are proven to have undergone construction work, while only 10 have seen work completed at the basement levels.
Third, all of the plots licenced so far have been for residential construction, while none have been licenced for investment or commercial purposes – this despite four years having passed since licencing began. This is due to administrative difficulties and the high cost of the licencing process. In addition, the licences come with time limits and must be renewed through the payment of additional fees in case of delayed construction. If the licence cannot be renewed, then the owners must source construction materials at market prices, incurring additional costs.
Fourth, there are no large companies specialised in building and cladding currently working on the Marota City project. Rather, work is limited to small contractors. Meanwhile, the advanced engineering equipment needed to construct tall towers remains unavailable.
Finally, Marota City’s period of exemption from certain taxes ends in 2022, namely the taxes on the unbuilt-on lands (‘arassat’). Owners and investors of these plots of land fear that the return of this tax – under Legislative Decree No. 53 of 2006, which regulates real estate and property taxes – may add a large financial burden. According to Al-Qaisi, the real estate expert, this increase in taxes, in addition to other taxes, may reach 10 percent of the value of each plot, which is to be paid annually for the duration of the period that the plot is prepared for construction, whether licenced or not.