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Mirian Metreveli: tourists in Batumi will get a more upscale vacation, and real estate buyers will have confidence in the future

In 2019, the Batumi City Hall issued 582 construction permits, in 2020 - 165, in 2021 - 175, and in the first quarter of 2022 - 30 permits. The reason is stricter building codes. Now the quality of objects under construction is being approached more rigidly, and each new building must necessarily fit into a single plan for the development of the city. For the construction of a building more than 24 meters high, it is necessary to conduct studies of the surrounding area, which require considerable costs from the developer. Many developers lose their desire already at the application stage.

Mirian Metreveli: tourists in Batumi will get a more upscale vacation, and real estate buyers will have confidence in the futureWe asked Mirian Metreveli, Head of the Development and Urbanization Service of the Batumi City Hall, what benefits the new building codes have given the city and how they will affect the investment climate.

- Mr. Mirian, every year Batumi is changing, new buildings are being built, architecture is improved, the appearance of the city is changing. Can you tell us please what is expected in Batumi in the coming years? What is the city development plan and how will it change the city?

- We have a special department of urban development. The functions of the specialists of this department are to take part in the planning of construction in the city. There is also a department dealing with the historical part of Batumi, which considers projects related to the old city. If necessary, the staff of the department send their recommendations to the Cultural Heritage Agency.

We have been working on the master plan for the development of the city for several years. A special competition was held to select a company that will deal with the master plan for the development of the city.

The winner was City Institute Georgia. According to its director Mamuka Salukvadze, the general development plan includes such areas as inclusive development, a green and safe city. The company brought together 40 highly qualified specialists from various industries, and also found and concluded an agreement with subcontractors in the field of transport, economics, tourism, and the protection of cultural heritage sites. Experts from France and Germany work with this company, who helped to develop a plan for the development of Tbilisi and Gori.

The mayor's office has already adopted the first stage of the plan - it involves the study of the environment to identify possible existing problems. At the next stage, the winning company will present its vision of the city's future development. This vision should address identified issues and improve the infrastructure, appearance, safety, accessibility, logistics and other characteristics of the city. The planned facilities must meet consumer demand and be economically and infrastructurally feasible, that is, bring the maximum benefit to the residents of the city.
The plan includes research on the development of new sectors of the economy. After all, the objects included in the plan should bring real benefits - to make the city even better and more attractive for both residents and vacationers. For example, they directly oblige builders to equip a sufficient number of parking spaces. The plan also provides for several new interesting projects that solve the already existing problem of shortage of parking spaces.

- What areas of development are priorities for the city in your opinion?

- Batumi is a seaside resort where international tourism is booming. Therefore, it is important for us to meet the needs of tourists of different levels and with different budgets. In order to comfortably spend time in Batumi, both tourists with a small budget and lovers of luxury holidays could. It is no coincidence that the Batumi Gonio-Kvariati region has earned a reputation as a prosperous, authentic and upscale family resort, its beaches even claim to receive a blue flag - an indicator of impeccability and compliance with high international quality criteria. In this zone, we issue permits for the construction of houses with the so-called low intensity. There will be no skyscrapers here, but there will be cozy family complexes, private houses and luxurious villas.

Old Batumi has a high density of cultural and historical monuments, so the maximum height of buildings under construction there should not exceed 15 meters. Any project that enters the city hall is sent to the Cultural Heritage Agency for consideration. There will be no simplifications or concessions in the historical part of the city. Considerable funds are allocated for the rehabilitation of historical monuments.

In addition to the construction industry, we plan to develop others, which one the company that developed the master plan will identify. These can be new infrastructure facilities, attractions, services and places of public leisure. Work in this direction will be completed this year. Specific areas have been identified, which will enable us to begin its implementation in the near future.

- How is the construction industry changing, are there new regulations?

- The development of the construction industry implies the improvement of the legislative framework. In this regard, much has changed, the entire construction industry has fallen under new forms of regulation. There are certain areas of the city where the intensity of development is so great that it is necessary to look for other forms of development. In some places, there is an urgent need to defuse the situation by developing new entertainment facilities and recreation areas.

We have already conducted research and identified which problems are most relevant in each of the districts of the city. We will work on them - we will determine specific measures to radically change the existing situation in accordance with a holistic development plan.

For example, in urban planning, we plan to balance the volume of development and the functional load on each building. The norms of the new legislation provide for the construction of new buildings only after comprehensive studies in compliance with all norms and requirements of regulatory documents.
When agreeing on any construction, our service examines the surrounding space within a radius of at least 50 meters. We check the condition of infrastructure, utility networks and compliance with environmental requirements. Only after that we determine the maximum possible number of floors of the building under construction, its volume and total area.
Since 2020, new regulations in urban planning have been in force, to which not all developers have been able to adapt. This reduced the intensity of urban development and improved the quality of construction and the architectural appearance of new facilities, taking into account the surrounding landscape.

- Will developers be able to adapt to the new regulations? Will the number of new offers on the market decrease?

- The problem of adaptation is certainly temporary. Georgian developers are accustomed to a simplified form of issuing building permits, so many have not been able to abruptly switch to new forms and methods of work. Since 2006, procedures for issuing building permits have been simplified as much as possible. No studies of the surrounding territory were carried out, bureaucratic obstacles were abolished altogether. This was necessary in order to democratize the construction business as much as possible and caused a real construction boom. Not only professionals, but also obvious amateurs wanted to go into the construction business, which led to negative consequences.

Permissiveness was also reflected in the quality of the buildings being built. Homebuyers, seduced by the relative cheapness, did not think about how their homes would look in 20 years. It's no secret that many of them have serious quality problems. Buildings that do not meet high standards have appeared in the city.

Another problem is high-rise buildings. The fact is that earlier an investor could demand permission to erect a building three times higher than the norms of building coefficients, referring to the volume of investments. This is how huge skyscrapers arose in the central districts of the city. Today it is not so easy to get permission. It is necessary to conduct quarterly studies, to find out what resources the quarter has in terms of the development of transport, urban infrastructure, and engineering communications. That is why many construction companies have not been able to adapt to the changed conditions. But their places are taken by those who build low-rise cottages, villas and holiday homes.

Even relations with neighbors were not settled. For example, earlier it was possible to build a building in such a way that it could damage an adjacent building. Naturally, in such cases, the responsibility lies with the construction company. In order to eliminate such incidents and improve the overall level of quality, the building code has been amended accordingly.
From now on, environmental research is a prerequisite for obtaining a building permit. Only after that the number of storeys, maximum height, and volume is determined.

The main plan for the development of the city is not a recommendation, but a direct guide to action. The city municipality will strictly follow the plan - whether the deadlines and requirements for the quality of construction are met. It is quite natural that this will cause a conflict of interest with some construction companies. Business always has its own interests, which do not always coincide with the interests of the city. But we are sure that if there is a mutual desire to reach a consensus, it will not be difficult. On the other hand, an investor who bought a land plot and built a three-story building on it, and in front of him began the construction of a twenty-story building, has every reason to claim. And it is important for us that the interests of both developers and residents of this area are taken into account. One of the parties should not be the winner to the detriment of the interests of neighbors. The purpose of our service is to prevent and resolve such incidents. The future general development plan will definitely determine the places where the construction of high-rise buildings is allowed and where it is prohibited.

- The new standards make construction more orderly and safer. So what are the benefits of the new building standards for investors and businesses?

- The new legislation not only limits, but also gives investors new opportunities. Improving the quality of construction leads to increased buyer confidence and attracts more solvent customers.

It also gives developers the ability to plan for future projects and the assurance that the living space of their projects will be protected from the messes that have taken place in the past.
As a result, everyone wins - city residents get a more comfortable and rich environment, guests get a more upscale vacation, real estate buyers get confidence in the future, and investors get more solvent customers and the opportunity to build long-term project development plans.