Homs Park Project, Stalled for Decades, Now Open for Investment

The Parks Directorate at the Homs City Council announced last week that it had opened sections of land allocated to build the so-called "People's Park" for investment. The Directorate did not clarify what kinds of investment it was hoping to attract to the park project, which has been stalled since it was first announced in 1994.

The land set aside for the park sits along Nizar Qabbani street in western Homs across 46 hectares of orchards in the city’s sixth designated real estate zone. More than two decades ago, the area consisted of agricultural land and houses, and was home to 1,500 people — a large portion of whom owned their own properties.

Authorities expropriated the land through the Council of Ministers Decree No. 5047 of 1994, for the stated purpose of "public benefit," based on Urban Expansion Law No. 60 of 1979. The decree was the result of a previous study prepared by the Homs City Council, which originally included an idea for constructing concrete blocks and creating investment projects, in addition to the public park.

The decision to base Decree No. 5047 on Law No. 60 of 1979 was a mistake, according to objections from property owners and investors at the time, as the real estate listings for that area already belonged within the Homs urban expansion zone. This prompted some owners and investors to appeal the decree before the Supreme Administrative Court, demanding that authorities cancel the expropriation.

It seems that the expropriator confused Law No. 60 of 1979 and Expropriation Law No. 20 of 1983 — though from a legal standpoint, articles from any of these laws may apply to the area slated for acquisition, regardless of whether it is inside the zoning plans or not, according to Syrian lawyer Muhammad Al-Sattouf. In 2004, the court found no reason to cancel the expropriation, and changed the legal attribution of Decree No. 5047 to Law No. 20 of 1983.

In effect, Law No. 60 had itself been amended by Law No. 26 of 2000, as some articles from Law No. 60 were transferred over to terms of reference of Law No. 20.

Three years later, towards the end of 2007, the City Council evacuated the orchards that were slated for the construction of the People’s Park, and bulldozed wide swathes of agricultural land. Large protests ensued, with demonstrators gathering in front of the Homs governorate building and the Presidency of the Council of Ministers in Damascus. Construction was meant to start the following year. It has remained ink on paper ever since.