Money at heart of row over lands owned by churchAdded on November 22, 2004
The sale of religious-owned land for massive amounts of money has become a common feature of the Dublin property market. Sale prices of more than ?5 million an acre have been achieved for land, much of it located in prime residential areas of the city.
In many cases, the attractiveness of the land for developers is enhanced by the fact that, although zoned Z15 for long-term institutional use, it can easily be developed for housing. This is because the Z15 zoning category lists residential use as being "open for consideration"; in fact, 12 of the 15 permissible zonings used by city planners allow housing in one form or another.
As a result, residents in many parts of the city have found, to their surprise and dismay, that lands they thought were safely in use for education or health purposes suddenly become the subject of planning applications for houses and apartment blocks.
Although the new Dublin City Council elected last June is dominated by the left, it was the sole PD member, Cllr Wendy Hederman, who proposed the change that provoked the controversy.
She argued that existing provisions amounted to a "loophole" or "backdoor" for building houses on land needed for the community. "Zonings should do what they say on the tin," she said. "If anyone wants to build houses on their institutional land, he or she is free to seek to have it rezoned."
Last September the council agreed that Z15 lands could not be used for residential use unless it was for social and affordable housing. This amendment, along with others, was inserted in the Dublin draft development plan, which was put on public display.
The council received over 60 submissions on the amended draft plan this month, almost all dealing with institutional lands. More than a dozen Catholic religious orders have opposed the change, along with their umbrella organisation, the Conference of Religious in Ireland, and property trustees for the Archbishop of Dublin.
The orders generally argue they need the freedom to sell off parcels of land to fund ongoing activities and the care of elderly members. The Carmelites, for example, say they may need to sell land at Terenure College to pay for new classrooms, repair the roof of the school and refurbish a swimming pool.
Similarly, Alexandra College (under Church of Ireland management), which has clashed with parents over plans to sell a hockey pitch, argues that it may occasionally need "exceptional funding" from land sales.
With both CORI and the archbishop claiming the measure is unconstitutional, a court battle looks certain if it remains in the final plan to be adopted by councillors next spring. But the row also has a church/State dimension, with some orders claiming they are being victimised.
The Sisters for Charity, for example, have claimed that religious institutions are the only private landowners affected by the change, which they describe as "hostile", "discriminatory" and "offensive".
There is also resentment that, as the CORI submission states, "Dublin is becoming a city long in history but short in memory" because councillors have forgotten the property and facilities given to the city by the religious.
CORI admits the proposal will greatly devalue its land and is not appeased by the possibility of using it for social and affordable housing. The "burden" of social housing should be shared out across the community, it says.
Ironically, CORI's justice commission argued last year that the Constitution should be amended to ease the grip of developers on land and increase the supply of social and affordable housing.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that CORI's message is: yes to social and affordable housing, but not on my patch.
? The Irish Times