A five decade-old problem reemerged in April when Syria’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing rejected a zoning study, proposed by Tishreen University, concerning the eastern seafront of Tartous.
The corniche, or seafront, in Tartous is around 1,400 metres long and between 30 and 130 metres wide. It is currently occupied by old, worn-down homes and shops whose owners have been denied permits to construct or renovate since 1976.
Troubles on the Tartous seafront date back to 1976 when the Minister of Housing issued Circular No. 3230 which halted any new construction permits in the area before a new tourism zoning plan in the area was issued. By 1988, a zoning plan was issued for the city which stipulated that the surface area per construction plot on the seafront be at minimum 2,000 square metres. Rights holders considered this rule to be a violation of their seafront properties, as the area is home to many small properties of no more than 100 square metres. The issue continued in 2006, when an updated zoning plan was issued for the seafront that included only 27 organisational plots, each of which had a minimum area of 900 square metres.
Then, in 2018, the Tartous City Council contracted Tishreen University in Lattakia to prepare a zoning study. The university released its study the next year, increasing the number of organisational plots on the seafront to 80 and lowering the minimum surface area for each plot to 250 square metres on the condition that each plot contains up to five properties with dozens of owners, occupants, heirs, and tenants.
The Tartous City Council adopted the study via Decision No. 102 of October 2019, afterwards referring it via Letter No. 7135 of December 2019 to the city council-affiliated Regional Technical Committee for further examination. It is unclear whether the committee actually approved the study, but in July 2020, it did record objections from representatives of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. According to these representatives, the study “adopted social and real estate reasoning regardless of the architectural harmony between the construction blocks resulting from the city and the surrounding empty spaces.” The ministry representatives also criticised the “mixed usage of single construction blocks without any conditions.”
From the series of subsequent correspondences between Tishreen University, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, and the Regional Technical Committee, it appears that the university did not heed the contractual conditions of the study to review the amendments requested by the ministry’s representatives. Thus, in April, the minister decided to reject the study, instead requesting either that it be amended in accordance with previous comments or that a new study be conducted altogether. This new study would have to include technical, legal, and planning controls that take into account the local, regional, and national importance of the seaside project. The ministry also resolved that, as a third option, an expanded technical committee of zoning experts be formed to propose appropriate alternative solutions.
It is unclear why exactly the study was not approved, though it appears that the Ministry of Public Works and Housing aims to exclude the Tartous City Council and Tishreen University from waterfront zoning plans. Indeed, there is a separate contract between the Regional Planning Council and the Ministry of Public Works and Housing-affiliated General Company for Engineering Studies (GCES) to conduct studies in the coastal region. In October 2020, the ministry sent a letter to the Regional Planning Council to refer the proposed zoning study for the Tartous seafront to the GCES. This was done in accordance with Urban Planning Law No. 5 of 1982 and its amendments, which restrict the process of issuing new zoning plans to the purview of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing.
The Assistant Minister of Housing told the semi-official newspaper Al-Watan in March that the seafront zoning study had solved the issue of the small property owners. However, she added, the study raised new issues for large property owners by dividing their real estate into smaller properties. The zone would need a large real estate company to gather the small property owners and distribute their shares back to them, as happened in Marota City, she said.