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Business deregulation in Insa-dong stirs dispute

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Published : 2014-03-16 20:57
Updated : 2014-03-16 20:57

Seoul City’s push to ease development restrictions in a traditional culture district is creating concerns among those who want to protect the area against possible runaway commercialization projects.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said Sunday that it would introduce a new rule to soften business restrictions in Insa-dong, a sightseeing area packed with traditional craft shops, art galleries and restaurants.

In 2002, authorities designated certain areas in Jongno-gu, totaling 120,000 square meters, as “Insa-dong culture district” as part of efforts to help preserve cultural assets and traditions. Buildings cannot be higher than four stories and only traditional cultural businesses are permitted to operate in some parts of the district.

If the restrictions are eased, permits will be issued for buildings as tall as 60 meters, or 19 stories.

The prospect of relaxed restrictions, however, is worrying critics, who claim that such a change could undermine the image and role of the cultural district. Owners of traditional businesses in the area also spoke out against the city’s new plan, coming after a wave of commercial and renovation projects at the heart of Insa-dong that have changed the neighbourhood drastically in recent years.

“Owners of antique shops and galleries are concerned about the rumor that the establishment of a high-rise hotel is already being pushed,” Yoon Yong-chul, the chief of the Insa-dong traditional culture preservation association, was quoted as saying by Yonhap.

Yoon called for the authorities to reconsider their plan to loosen regulations.

While Seoul City officials claimed that the eased regulations are not designed to allow for a high-rise hotel, the city postponed the introduction of the revised rule in a review meeting held last month.

“(The city) will negotiate with Jongno-gu Office over ways to explore the public opinion (over the issue). Business restrictions would remain intact if the public opposition were too strong,“ Seoul officials said.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)

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