Kyiv's approach to urban planning amounts to chaos
Judging by the city’s ever-rising skyline, Kyiv’s residential real estate market appears to be on the move again, with the frames of skyscraping housing complexes shooting up amid cranes. But at ground level, Kyiv residents have a different view. Construction companies are clogging up the city, ignoring regulations by fencing off construction sites, blocking access and leaving residents inconvenienced. Moreover, often when new developments start work, they linger unfinished for years as developers try to raise money to complete the projects.
Meanwhile, city zoning plan after city zoning plan has been violated by well-connected developers. As greed prevails over strategy, regulation and common sense, Kyiv’s city center and its inhabitants are paying the price.
Maxim Bakhmatov, a managing partner of UNIT City, a Kyiv innovation park that rents offices to tech companies, says that the problem can be summed up in one word — “impunity.”
“There is no general plan in the city and now Kyiv is simply clogging up, being built up chaotically,” Bakhmatov told the Kyiv Post. “This is because of the greed of people, the absence of punishment for violating laws, and (developers) having the opportunity to purchase anything they want.”
Over the past five years, the number of new residential complexes in Kyiv has grown apace, with more than one million square meters of housing approved for construction every year, according to Ukraine’s State Statistics Service.
Behind this construction is a city zoning plan, but it is vague and unenforced, meaning many Kyivans wake up to new residential complexes being erected right next to their windows, and previously shady, arboreal neighborhoods being turned into concrete jungles.
Olena Terestchenko, founder and coordinating board member of Kyivske Viche, an advocacy group, outlined the problem to reporters:
"We have a current general plan of Kyiv. It is in place, but it is constantly violated. Developers began to violate it even during the time of Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko, at the beginning of the 2000s, when green areas and historic zones were opened up to construction.”
The general plan has been revised several times, with new iterations blotting out previous green areas and legitimizing previously illegal constructions, says Terestchenko. Now, powerful builders are lobbying for the adoption of a new master plan that will give them even more concessions. The result isn’t just unsightliness. With the city’s spotty landscape of decades-old buildings, the developers’ ambitions threaten straight-out ruin. In places like 2/1 Kruglouniversitetska St., companies are build large multistory complexes next to low-rise or older buildings, a particular problem in the city center. Now residents are posting on social media photographs of the cracks that are appearing in the walls of some of Kyiv’s historic buildings. Disappearing parks And it’s not just built-up areas that are at risk: at times, city parks turn into illegal construction sites.
One example is the Autograph residential complex on the left bank of Kyiv, under construction since 2015. The complex was placed right in the middle of the park, and 600 trees were cut down to make space for it.
DIM, the developer of the scandalous construction site, is unpopular: Stroyobzor, a ranking created by journalists, experts, public organizations and investors, rates it as the second-worst developer in Kyiv.
But developers often find a way to hide damaging moneymaking schemes until after the city has approved them. Local media outlets allege that developers have a simple scheme: register an unknown company that strikes an agreement with a city official on where to locate a construction site, then weather the public outcry until locals accept the building, which they can then claim.
In the case of DIM, the developer entered the market under a different name — Budinvest KM.
The same company has built residential complexes in two other city parks — “Radunka” and “Kristerova Gorka” — according to Stroyobzor.
Spoiling the view Another problem in Kyiv involves newly constructed buildings that are taller than the maximum legal height. In Kyiv, for example, regulations say that the height of new buildings in historic areas cannot exceed 27 meters.
But there are examples of companies that have violated that law. One is the Podil Prestige complex, a 13-story monolith built four years ago in Kyiv’s historic center. The building, also dubbed by Kyivans as “Podil’s monster,” might soon be demolished, as an extra five floors were constructed over the eight allowed.
But Dora Peteli, the director of the developer’s legal entity Patel Leasing, says that the Podil Prestige complex did everything legally.
“I do not know who organizes these campaigns against us, but this building is beautiful. Maybe because we did not give someone 10 apartments for free, or because I did not give a bribe of half a million dollars?” Peteli told Kyiv Post.
Activists agree that the extra five floors of this building spoil the general view in Podil, since it is higher than all the houses nearby. The building also blocked an entrance to an underground crossing.
Frozen construction After prolonged campaigns, the Podil Prestige complex now stands empty. It’s a fate shared by about 200 unfinished buildings in Kyiv, with completion dates sometimes delayed for decades, said Glieb Shemovniev, a spokesman at state building company Ukrbud.
Construction on these buildings often halts because developers run out of money to continue the work.
And in some cases people who already bought apartments in such buildings were deceived — the developer abandons the project, but keeps the money. The fraud victims don’t have many options, other than wait in hopes that another company will finish the project or that a court will rule in their favor. Both options are unlikely.
One notorious example of this is the Akademgorodok residential complex, which has been under construction since 1992. Its first three sections were completed in 2002, while the last one is still unfinished, and more than 120 families are waiting for construction to be finished.
This site will be finished by another company — Ukrbud. The stateowned builder is now making progress in completing the project.
And there are signs that Kyiv’s developers are becoming more professional.
Even though there haven’t been any major cases of developers being taken to court for failing to complete building projects over the past decade, they are doing better financial planning, Shemovniev said.
“Developers have become more experienced, and already know how to finalize projects and correctly calculate their financial resources so as not to fail."
Birdhouses oversee Kyiv’s left bank that is being clogged up with residential buildings as construction companies often ignore city regulations. (Oleg Petrasiuk)
This Podil Prestige building was built four years ago, yet stands empty in Kyiv’s historic Podil district on May 21. City regulations require that the height of new buildings in historic areas not to exceed 27 meters while this 13-story monolith dubbed as “Podil’s monster” stands out. It might soon be demolished, as an extra five floors were constructed over the eight allowed. (Oleg Petrasiuk)
Kyiv has about 200 unfinished buildings that stand still with completion dates sometimes delayed for decades, according to Ukrbud, a state-owned real estate developer. Construction can stop due to various reasons such as raider attacks, developers running out of money or being paid enough down-payments from early birds who have been tricked into purchasing unfinished apartments.