The Curious Response from Versailles City Hall

The response from Versailles City Hall to our articles, published here, is interesting. First of all because it does not bring into question any of our conclusions concerning the PLU, that is notably its consequences in terms of density and height of the urbanization which threatens the land located inside the park at Versailles.
It is also surprising since, clearly, City Hall does not feel accountable for its policies and passes the responsibility of any threat to the royal domain on to the French government and the Schéma directeur de l’Ile-de-France (SDRIF). "It wasn’t me, it was him", claims the mayor in a less than honorable manner. He was however elected in 2008 after promising the citizens of Versailles to lower their taxes by freeing up the land for businesses [1]. The decision to revise the PLU was, moreover, freely debated and voted by the municipal council...

The arguments presented by City Hall incriminating the SDRIF in no way correspond to the actual reality, as can be easily demonstrated, and did not appear in fact in the first response addressed to us, which we accepted not to post online until we had received the one we now publish.

1. Local zoning map. Restrictions of public utility N°4-b-1.
The fine hatching designates the listing as
Historical monument. The stars inside a black circle
show each of the protected buildings. The land at
Mortemets and Matelots can be seen as benefiting from
this listing and thus do not fall under the provisions of the
SDRIF. The aeronautic restrictions impeding the urbanization
of Pion lie directly in the axis of the Grand Canal.

1. We should first point out that the Schéma directeur de la région d’Ile-de-France [Guiding scheme for the Ile-de-France region] "should respect [...] the restrictions of public utility", as indicated very clearly in article L141-1 of the Code d’urbanisme, that is to say that a listing as a historical monument [2] takes precedence over any other recommendations of the guiding scheme. All of the arguments presented by City Hall regarding the listed lots at Matelots and Mortemets [3] (ill. 1) are thus null and void. Let us point out that they were listed with the intention they be returned to nature [4] and that they report or will soon report to the Etablissement Public de Versailles which cannot, acccording to its statutes, urbanize them. This Establishment must, on the contrary, free them of all the alien, cumbersome buildings, often in ruins, because its mission is to "preserve, protect, restore the [...] domains comprising it" [5]. The city is thus rendering a disservice by proposing an urban and tourist project to the EPV which is in fact harmful and goes against its statutes.

The arguments of City Hall in favor of the project for Satory are just as unfounded since the same article L. 141-1 of the Code d’urbanisme stipulates that the SDRIF "must respect [...] the necessary measures for the enactment [...] of operations of national interest [OIN]". To be precise, the Satory plateau is covered by the OIN of Paris - Saclay, for which only the government is authorized to issue building permits (art. L. 422 - 2 c of the Code de l’urbanisme). It goes without saying that heritage protection should also be taken into consideration [6]. In fact, we do not understand that the protection project of the OIN for 3,900 hectares, including 2,316 hectares of "agricultural land" [7], does not extend to Satory, a territory belonging to our most famous national domain !

2. According to Versailles City Hall it is impossible for an "urbanized zone" or one "which can be urbanized" in the SDRIF to be classified as a natural zone in the PLU (zone where the name begins with an N). Yet, a bit further on, it says exactly the opposite, explaining that the Mortemets sector (classified as an "urbanized zone" by the SDRIF) is, in the PLU, "classified as an NP zone [which is] justified by the wish to preserve the ecological quality of the environment and the exceptional historical interest of the site comprising the domaine national de Versailles." What was considered impossible at the beginning of the response suddenly changes further along.

2. Schéma directeur d’Ile-de-France [Guiding scheme for the
Ile de France region]. Map for general disposition of ground area.
1/ 150,000. The excerpt presented by the city of Versailles
is taken from this map referring to all of the Ile de France region.
Its lack of precision reflects the fact that there was
no thorough preliminary study.

It is also absurd to claim that the SDRIF "held the drawing pencil" for City Hall. The SDRIF is only a "provisory" document which determines the "preferential location of urban extensions" [8] (as seen by the impractical scale of the map [9] : ill. 2), while the PLU on the other hand is an "operational" document. The PLU in fact is supposed to be simply "compatible" (art. L. 141 - 1 of the code de l’urbanisme) with the SDRIF and not "in conformity" with it, implying tenuous submission. The SDRIF warning stipulates that "local communities are allowed a certain freedom and a margin of appreciation : this is needed for them to express, while still respecting the Schéma’s orientations and measures, their own strategy for the project" [10]. The measures provided in the text, to be considered along with the map, stipulate also that "The heritage quality of the Versailles Plain deserves to be better protected. In particular, spaces which are still free should be preserved, which will imply putting strict limits on the development of existing settlements" [11]. To sum up, the city of Versailles could have preserved the site of Pion from urbanization if it had wished to do so.

Furthermore, the mayor was under no obligation to create the network of roads he is planning, or striving to bring the Grand Paris subway line to Matelots, build up Pion by 80%, raise the height of the buildings from 9 to 12 m [12], plan very big buildings at Matelots and introduce - after the public inquiry closed - the possibility of installing "recreational and tourist" activities at Mortemets, adjacent to the gardens of the château and Suisses pond...

3. DIREN IF, listed site on the Versailles Plain,
file of meeting (p. 59) of June 2010.
This study, commissioned by the Direction régionale de
l’environnement d’Ile-de-France before the
city’s PLU projects, provides for the restitution,
with no definite timetable, of the lanes of
the Etoile Royale. The preserved wall of the park, bordering
the Pion land, is not represented.

3. The reasoning behind point 2 might, in fact, be applied with the necessary changes to the land at Pion, which is not listed. Even admitting that it be considered a "zone which can be urbanized" in the PLU, the French Ministry of Culture needs to intervene in order to obtain the listing of this particularly sensitive land inside the park of Versailles. Indeed, all possible efforts should be exerted to maintain the original sense of this beautiful project [13] to restitute the lanes in Fontenay and Saint-Cyr [14] (ill. 3) going out from the Etoile Royale, recently replanted (we should commend here Jean-Jacques Aillagon’s initiative) (ill. 4). The city’s only concern, instead of recommending that this land be built up to 80% capacity as shown in our article, should have been to either classify it as a natural zone in the PLU, or else request that the Ministry of Culture protect it as a historical monument and ensure its return to the Etablissement Public de Versailles. In the long run, this will be, in the interest of the cities of Saint-Cyr and Fontenay-le-Fleury, grouped together in the agglomerated community of "Versailles Grand Parc"...

4. Layout of the replanting of the Etoile Royale
carried out in 2011. The start of the lanes
of Fontenay and Saint Cyr whose extension is
planned to said cities can be seen
at the top right-hand corner.

5. Installation orientations for the Matelots-Mortemets sector,
approved on 24 November 2011 (p. 15). The extension of the
Mortemets lane to the D10 is outlined in red. The “public
transport liaisons” planned on the hillside of the Satory
plateau are outlined in yellow. The new departmental road
connecting Pion to Matelots can be seen in red.
It is connected at each end to the D7 and the D10.

4. Versailles City Hall also strongly emphasizes the restriction of "limited building" it is imposing in Matelots and Satory (but not in Mortemets and Pion). This measure, which cannot exceed a 5 year delay (art. L. 123 - 2 of the Code de l’urbanisme), was passed in order to prevent a series of random constructions rather than a more ambitious project such as Roland-Garros and is consequently, in no way a guarantee. The fact that the measures provided for in the PLU are delayed in these two zones is not at all positive : it is done strictly for more lucrative gain later.

5. Versailles City Hall is very careful not to express any reaction to the consequences of creating three new stations in a radius of 1,500 m. Nor does it offer any explanation for the new departmental road it considers necessary to create starting at Pion for accessing an "urban center" at Matelots leading to the lane of the same name, then passing in front of the Orangerie of the château (ill. 5, red line) ! How can the city also think of planning, on the slopes of the Satory plateau, which are particularly sensitive for the panorama of the château, two "liaisons for public transport" to connect Mortemets and Matelots to the Grand Paris subway line (ill. 5, red arrows) ?

6. Listed land at Mortemets and bird’s eye
view of the Mortemets lane. The beautiful trees
of the forest road can be seen at the end
of the replanted lane leading to the Suisses pond.

6. We would also point out that City Hall states that its "priority" is to replant the lane at Mortemets. It seems obvious first of all that "replacing" the replanting of one of the park lanes with the build up of its adjoining areas (the PLU provides for the construction of about 46,000 m2 usable surface area at Matelots) does not fool any one. The park would be totally spoiled and deprived of its natural aspect, making the operation useless.

We have also shown that the mayor’s "combat" to recreate the lane at Mortemets is ridiculously quixotic in that most of it has already been replanted by the army (almost 2 km.) ! An aerial view of this tree lane (see article), not having sufficed apparently to establish the facts, we now publish a bird’s eye view (ill. 6). The PLU provides simply for an extension at the end (less than 9% of its entire length) and, this in fact, in order to connect it to departmental road n° 10 coming from Saint Cyr (ill. 5, dotted line outline in yellow) ! According to the PLU, this is to "enable, notably, a continuity in the network of low-impact traffic". The "low impact traffic", probably assigned to the side-lanes, can thus be effected at the same with the competing car traffic in the center lanes... The other end of the lane, facing the Suisses pond, contains the rare tree species listed in the PLU (art. L. 130 - 1 of Code d’urbanisme). These remarkable specimens, notably the beautiful plane trees (ill. 6, at the end of the replanted lane), now line the road. The replanting here is therefore not urgent, unless, once again, the idea is to put up some more buildings... The elaborate scheme set up by City Hall to finance the replanting of a lane which is already, for the most part, perfectly presentable is rather entertaining... On the other hand, the urgent character of the situation at Matelots and Mortemets, practically abandoned to their present scandalous condition is more than obvious and demands attention...

7. The city of Versailles says it "favors a landscaped reappropriation of the spaces extending the park of Versailles rather than leaving them to unrestricted construction." The opposite is true since the city wishes to open the Domaine national de Versailles to unrestricted construction. If one looks at the legal definition of "mitage", this is described as an urbanization which does not "continue" an existing [municipal] agglomeration (art. L. 146 - 4 of Code de l’urbanisme). No one can say that the urbanization of Satory, Mortemets, Matelots or Pion is carried out as a continuation of the city of Versailles... On the contrary, the idea presented in the new project is to build inside a protected and walled-in park which was not designed to welcome residents, by simply immersing the future constructions in the landscaping. The most striking evidence of the scattered aspect of this urbanization is the new and costly transportation network (departmental road, train stations...) needed to access it. The buildings planned by the previous municipal administration (just as negligent in its attention to heritage as this one) at Chantiers, did not propose this mistaken approach and really did extend the city instead of spreading it out beyond the edges. Their solution was abandoned "due to security risks for the neighborhood" [15] in favor of a new city inside the park representing, as admitted by the assistant to the mayor in charge of urban affairs, no less than 14,000 inhabitants [16] (that is the equivalent of a city like Le Raincy, Courcouronnes or Issoudun). Certain local associations however, believe the figures have been deliberately lowered (because Versailles residents are against increasing the density of their metropolis) and forecast rather the arrival of 80,000 inhabitants, that is a doubling of this royal city [17].

No matter how one looks at the revised project for the PLU, whatever the arguments presented by the City, the reality of the actual situation will just not go away. We have shown, in one article after another, that this revision authorizes the urbanization of the land inside the park of Versailles created by Louis XIV. The project is so incredible that for the moment no one seems ready to believe it. We should get ready for a rude awakening.

Version française

Didier Rykner et Julien Lacaze, jeudi 19 janvier 2012


[1] "The Versailles budget is too low, because there are not enough businesses : only 20% of the taxes in our city, the professional tax, comes from companies (as opposed to an average of 43% in other cities). The result is that private individuals, families, bear the load of most of the local taxes with the housing and property taxes. This is why my number one priority is economic development." Campaign document, March 2008. The boldface lettering is found in the original text.

[2] A listing as a historical monument is a restriction of public utility as confirmed by the title of map n°1.

[3] Official map of public utility restrictions mistakenly filed under drainage restrictions.

[4] On 30 March 1960, the French Minister of Cultural Affairs stated, at the time the land at Matelots-Mortemets was listed : "I would be obliged if you [he was addressing the Minister of War] would let me know if a project for selling or changing the use of this land is planned. It seems to me that the day the Department of War no longer needs the plots handed over in 1882, they should return to the Domain National de Versailles thus reestablishing the previous order, interrupted only to respond to the needs of your department."

[5] See here (art. 2, 1°). As for "the unique convention for use of the domain" of June 2011, referred to in the Journal des Arts, we do not see how this could replace a decree approved by the Conseil d’Etat. Sophie Flouquet, "Les chantiers des Versailles", Le Journal des Arts, n° 359, 16 December 2011 - 5 January 2012, p. 6.

[6] At least a part of the natural spaces in the Maneuvers field should be protected by keeping it in the public domain and by listing it ; the walls of the Domaine national coinciding with Versailles city borders should also be protected and restored.

[7] See here.

[8] art/ M/ 141 - 1 of the Code de l’urbanisme.

[9] SDRIF, p. 13 : "This cartographical representation has its limits, some due to the background of the map and size of the scale used, others due to the regional aspect of this exercice : [...] to obtain a sufficient precision, coherent with the selected scale, the content and the contours of the spaces were simplified : the isolated spaces, of an area less than [...] 6 hectares on the outer suburbs [the case of Versailles] were generally "immersed" in the surrounding spaces, which explains notably why certain green areas seem to have disappeared in the agglomerated zone of Ile-de-France. The lack of precision in showing the location of the contours, rather schematic (the detail of a location is no higher than about 2 mm., that is around 300 m. on the ground)."

[10] SDRIF, p. 14.

[11] SDRIF, p. 303.

[12] In the previous PLU, the height of the buildings was limited to 9 m., whereas the new PLU raises this height to 12 m. in 2/3 of the zone. File of public inquiry approved by the municipal council on 8 September 2006. 3a - Regulations. Written rule, art. UI 10.2, p. 181.

[13] Project of the DIREN IF.

[14] It would be working against the interest of the domain to transform the lanes of Fontenay and Saint-Cyr into urban avenues providing access to the business zone at Pion-Santos-Dumont.

[15] This expression designates the supposed nature of the visitors frequenting the Multiplexe cinema center. Campaign document, March 2008.

[16] Minutes of the Municipal council meeting of 27 January 2011 (p. 30).

[17] Minutes of the municipal council meeting of 16 December 2012 (p. 2499).

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