Taipei wins in Wenlin Yuan dispute

URBAN RENEWAL::The Wang family promised to continue fighting for the right to rebuild their home apart from an apartment complex

By Loa Iok-sin and Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff reporters

Fri, Dec 13, 2013 - Page 1

The Taipei High Administrative Court yesterday upheld the legitimacy of the Taipei City Government’s demolition of townhouses owned by the Wang (王) family in the controversial Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) urban renewal project in Shilin District (士林).

The court dismissed the family’s request that they be allowed to rebuild their homes apart from the apartment complex, and ruled that the city government’s handling of the demolition adhered to the Urban Renewal Act (都市更新條例).

The Wang family said they were greatly disappointed with the ruling and vowed to appeal.

Despite the family’s unwillingness to participate in the urban renewal project initiated by a private firm, Le Young Construction Co (樂揚建設), its two townhouses were still put on the list of houses to be torn down to make way for a 15-story apartment building, sincea majority of residents on the project site have agreed to the plan. The city government also said that the Wangs had failed to actively express their opposition to the plan.

In March last year, while hundreds of people supporting the Wangs surrounded their homes to oppose the tearing down, a demolition crew escorted by about 1,000 police officers moved in. A severe clash ensued as police forcibly removed the protesters and the crew flattened the houses.

Following a constitutional interpretation handed down in April that the Urban Renewal Act violates people’s constitutional right to property and that relevant clauses would become invalid in a year, the Wang family filed an administrative lawsuit, asking the court to revoke the city government’s decision.

“I feel disappointed and sad when I heard the ruling,” said Wang Kuang-shu (王廣樹), a family member. “What have I done wrong? Am I not allowed to refuse to collaborate [with the construction firm]?”

Wang said it was a shame for a democratic nation ruled by law to have the government send 1,000 police officers to escort the demolition squad of a private firm to flatten the private homes of a family who has been living there for more than a century.

Wang Kuang-shu’s aunt, Wang Yang Mei-yu (王楊美玉), who is in her 80s, said it was horrible that the government was “robbing people’s properties.”

“It’s our houses that were torn down this time, next time, it could be anybody else’s house,” she said.

Thomas Chan (詹順貴), the pro bono attorney representing the Wangs, said he could not accept the ruling.

“According to the court ruling, the judge believes that, although clauses in the Urban Renewal Act has been declared unconstitutional earlier this year, they are still valid at the moment since the constitutional interpretation gives a one-year buffer for the clauses to become invalid,” Chan said.

“This is unacceptable, we will appeal the case,” he said.

Separately, Taipei Deputy Mayor Chang Chin-oh (張金鶚) applauded the ruling for affirming the legality of the city government’s handling of the project, and expected the ruling to facilitate the stalled construction.

The city government respected the Wang family’s decision to file an appeal, but the court cannot handle the case without the presentation of new evidence, he said.

“We have confidence in our handling of the case. What is important is for the long-lasting dispute to be resolved soon. The city government wants to create a win-win situation for both sides. There will only be higher social cost by stalling the project,” he said.

Taipei City Urban Redevelopment Office director Lin Chung-chieh (林崇傑) said the Wang family has filed 11 lawsuits against the city government over the stalled project. The city has won 10 so far.

The High Court is rehearing its lawsuit against the city’s approval of the urban renewal project.

The Wang family also filed a lawsuit against the project developer for damaging a container the family has erected on the construction site to hinder construction.

There could be a breakthrough for the stalled project if the court hands down a ruling in this case, he said.

Additional reporting by staff writer