City authorities are at last tackling illegal luxury houses in Bogotá’s eastern hills.
If you went into the woods of the Cerros Orientales this week, you were in for a big surprise: heavy machinery taking down illegal mega-mansions built in the heart of the protected forest reserve.
But it was certainly no picnic for the wealthy developers of the five palatial properties which have been declared illegal and face the chop in Bagazal, a hidden valley in the heart of Bogotá’s Reserva Forestal.
The owners would lose their investments as well as
We repeatedly advised them not to construct, but they persevered and now we have arrived at the demolition stage.
Néstor Franco, director of CAR
Franco blamed the property developer’s ‘stubbornness’ in refusing to follow regulations. In some cases, the illegal construction processes had been ‘fast and aggressive, affecting the ecosystem, changing the course of the Quebrada Rosales, and damaging fauna and flora’, he said.
‘We repeatedly advised them not to construct, but they persevered and now we have arrived at the demolition stage,’ he told El Tiempo at the muddy site of El Bambú, the first mansion to be brought down.
The 14,000 square metr mansion, owned by Kaysser CK SAS, would be dismantled with machinery over four months, explained the CAR representative. The teams would avoid using explosives to reduce the chance of further damage to the delicate mountain environment.
Related: Crunch time for Bogotá’s Cerros Orientales
Four other Bagazal mansions were facing demolition orders for encroaching on the reserve, and owners were also being investigated for activities such as illegal logging, diversion of natural water sources, blocking access, and creating the risk of soil collapse and landslides. The actual removal of mansions of this size was ‘a first’ for CAR.
Environment groups welcomed the CAR initiative as an historic step towards in the wider battle to protect and recuperate Bogotá’s green spaces, particularly the 13,000-hectare forest reserve running along hills east of the city.
In Colombia with so much corruption, where people feel hopeless to change things, this shows that the solution lies with people power.
Andrés Plazas, Amigos de la Montaña
The much-delayed demolition was symbolic for Bogotá’s citizens and the country as a whole, said Andrés Plazas of environmental pressure group Amigos de la Montaña.
‘In Colombia with so much corruption, where people feel hopeless to change things, this shows that the solution lies with people power: citizen’s groups like Amigos de la Montaña can get results,’ he told The Bogotá Post this week.
Amigos de la Montaña, which started life as a hiking group in Bogotá’s affluent Rosales neighbourhood, was a key player in keeping the Bagazal case on the front pages and pushing the authorities to comply with the court orders to take down the offending buildings.
Demolition orders were first handed down by courts in 2016 based and backed up by subsequent rulings. But developers had kept the courts tied up with injunctions and counterclaims, plus tricks such as one owner who declared his 97-year-old mother as the property administrator, all the more to bog down the CAR tasked with implementing the court decision.
This chicanery caused widespread indignation with news media dubbing the owners ‘Piratas Estrato Ocho’ (‘high class pirates’) who considered themselves above the law.
Then on Tuesday this week, the El Bambú owners sent a uniformed army captain as part of their legal delegation making last-ditch threats to thwart the demolition team. According to a filmed report by Canal Uno, CAR had to call in police to support the knock-down which eventually started on Wednesday.
When The Bogotá Post visited El Bambú Wednesday afternoon the demolition was well under way – but surprisingly, construction work was also continuing on nearby mansions threatened with demolition.
So, were property developers really getting the message? Amigos de la Montaña hopes so.
‘With this demolition, property investors will become very cautious,’ said Plazas. ‘This is a message for people who think they can do what they want with their money: now they’ll think twice before starting developments in the protected forest of the Cerros Orientales.’