Court upholds appeals against holiday homes

Court upholds appeals against holiday homes
Photo: Mirko Grifoni
A ruling from Switzerland’s top court made public on Wednesday threw thousands of Alpine holiday home development projects into disarray.

Judges from the federal court’s first court of public law ruled that restrictions on the construction of secondary homes approved by voters last year under an initiative spearheaded by environmentalist Franz Weber apply from the date of the vote on March 11th 2012.

The supreme court said the restrictions apply to all applicable building permits issued after that date that have been appealed.

The court ruled that the initiative accepted by the voters is sufficiently clear without waiting for legislation from parliament, which has yet to be approved.

The initiative sets out limits on the construction of holiday homes that are “severe but clear,” Jean Fonjallaz, chief judge said, the SDA news agency reported.

The Weber initiative bans the approval of new holiday homes in communities where secondary homes account for 20 percent or more of the housing stock.

But municipalities in cantons such as Graubünden, Valais and Bern issued permits for holiday homes between March 11th and the end of 2012, believing they would be ruled legal.

Weber’s environmental organization Helvetia Nostra, meanwhile, filed more than 2,000 appeals against secondary home permits approved during the period.

It is not clear how many housing units are involved.

The supreme court ruled the group had the right to make such appeals.

The organization’s initiative aimed to prevent scenic and natural areas of Swiss countryside, particularly in the Alps, from being spoiled by overdevelopment.

But real estate developers and builders said they were shocked by the court’s rulings.

The Swiss society of entrepreneurs (SSE) cited a study that showed 7,000 jobs could be lost in mountain regions because of the decisions under a worst-case scenario.

The Swiss association of real estate owners said in a statement that the court decision creates new insecurities and puts in danger significant investments already made.

Authorities in the cantons of Graubünden and Valais, both areas where mountain resort development is a mainstay of the local economy, had earlier ruled that the Weber initiative did not immediately take effect after last year’s vote.

“The federal judges did not follow our point of view, shared by a majority of law professors,” Jean-Michel Cina, Valais cabinet minister reponsible for land management told the ATS news agency.

Cina added that the supreme court had not clarified all the legal points on the issue.

The federal department of land development is putting the final touches to proposed legislation for the “Lex Weber” that the federal government is to put out for consultation before the summer break.

The government had initially set a provisional ordinance for the legislation to take effect on January 1st this year, subject to the supreme court’s rulling.

That ruling would seem to indicate that the law will now be retroactive to March 11th 2012.

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