Wenceslas Square renovation stalled by court

The decision to allow a ramp for a private parking garage was not made properly

The Municipal Court in Prague annulled the decision by the Prague City Council to allow the revitalization of the lower part of Wenceslas Square, which included permission to build ramps into a private investor's garage. The court sided with associations for the protection of cultural monuments.

The Klub Za starou Prahu and the association Pankrácká filed suit against the decision by City Hall to reject their appeal against the revitalization of the square. The suit claimed the procedure used to reject the appeal was illegal.

The dispute concerned the Culture Ministry's role and specifically the intervention of then-Culture Minister Daniel Herman (KDU-ČSL), who reversed the ministry's previous opposition to the garage ramp.

A court spokesman said the court found that there was a procedural error during the appeal proceedings against the zoning decision, which could have affected the legality of the contested decision.

Minister Herman reviewed and canceled the original position of the ministry's conservationists in a shortened review process that did not allow for a further appeal.

Judge Viera Horčicová said the mistake was crucial and could have influenced the subsequent decision of City Hall on the revitalization. The city will now have to ensure in cooperation with the culture minister that the ministry's conservationists participate in the process and that the procedure is followed properly.

Prague Mayor Adriana Krnáčová (ANO) said that the city has not yet been able to review the decision, but the city would likely try to use legal means to overturn it. The city will also look at what work on the square that is unrelated to the garage ramp can continue.

The mayor pointed out that the project has already faced numerous delays since it was proposed in 2005, and only recently was able to get a building permit. The recent court ruling is just another complication, she added.

Critics of garage ramp say it is contrary to the interests of state monument care and will bring additional traffic, noise, dust and emissions to the city center. The underground garage would only be beneficial for the operation of planned commercial buildings and is not a part of the public interest, they add.

A proposal to renovate the square by Jakub Cigler Architekti won a competition organized by Prague 1 City Hall in 2005. Its roots go back even earlier. The project originated when Václav Havel was president and Jan Kasl was mayor, from 1998 to 2002.

The renovation plan includes water sprinklers, more trees and recharging stations for electric vehicles. The area, which has been a pedestrian zone for some time, will get a new look with wider sidewalks to be more inviting to the public.

Pedestrian space will expand considerably, with a loss of dozens of parking spaces, leaving only space for sixteen cars. Asphalt will be replaced by granite pavement and another row of trees.

The greenery will be irrigated by an automatic system, and six spots will be created for market stalls. There will also be a place for a Christmas tree.

Wenceslas Square, called Václavské náměstí in Czech, dates back to the mid-1300s and historically was a horse market. It has been the scene of many historic moments such as the reading out of a document declaring independence in 1918, the main site of the Soviet invasion in 1968 and the famous ringing of keys in 1989 as part of the Velvet Revolution.

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