The Cultural Heritage Administration said Tuesday that future discussions on the lifting of height restrictions near UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Jongmyo Shrine, Changdeokgung and the Joseon royal tombs, should take UNESCO's Heritage Impact Assessments into consideration. UNESCO recommends the use of a structured process called HIA to evaluate any proposed changes in the vicinity of designated heritage sites.
The CHA statement was made after a local media report Monday said that Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon and CHA Head Choi Eung-chon had discussed "easing regulations on cultural heritage sites in Seoul" on May 12.
The CHA denied any official consultations with the city, asserting that they have not received any relevant requests.
The current ordinance of the Seoul Metropolitan Government designates "historic and cultural environment preservation areas" with specific building height regulations. These regulations are applied within a 100-meter radius of the outer boundary of a state-designated property, and a 50-meter radius for other designated properties.
To determine the height of buildings, the distance between the site's outer boundary and the new building is divided in half, and the property's height is added to it.
"The CHA's Cultural Heritage Committee will move to implement the HIA if necessary," a heritage utilization bureau official at the CHA told The Korea Herald.
The official added that while it is not a binding legal requirement, the CHA pays close attention to the detailed documentation of UNESCO's Outstanding Universal Value, which provides a comprehensive explanation of why a World Heritage property is deemed globally significant. The CHA works to maintain those values, according to the official.
Meanwhile, calls for relaxing building height regulations in Seoul have continuously been raised, particularly in areas undergoing redevelopment. Some point out that the stringent regulations on building heights are leaving certain parts of the city center in a deteriorating state.
Two recent cases that have sparked heated debates are the Sewoon Reorganization District near the Jongmyo Shrine, a UNESCO-listed site, and the terraced apartments near Pungnap Toseong Fortress in Gangdong-gu, a state-designated cultural heritage site. Some view Seoul City as pushing for a new exception to the existing ordinances specifically for the Sewoon redevelopment region to allow for high-rise buildings.
The CHA official explained that if the city requests an official consultation, a comprehensive review process would take at least one month.