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Sablon residents worried over redevelopment of old Belgacom building
A redevelopment battle is brewing in the Sablon area, as a real estate company plans to demolish the empty Belgacom building that takes up the right side of Rue Lebeau as it snakes down the hill from the Place du Grand Sablon towards the city centre.
In 2014, when the building was purchased by real estate company Immobel, the firm stated that "our choice was quickly made to maintain the bearing structure and the existing facades to create an urban project that integrates perfectly into its environment and its socio-demographic and cultural fabric."
However, the plans have since changed and they are now proposing an almost complete demolition of the existing structure and then the building of a taller structure.
The Sablon neighborhood, a combination of picturesque medieval alleys and pretty 19th-century streets is home to Brussels' top antique businesses and many popular cafés, restaurants and high-end food stores.
Unlike almost all its contemporaries, the Modernist building, built during the fifties and sixties for the telephone company, was designed to relate to its surroundings and preserve the existing urban fabric, visually connecting the splendid enfilade of facades on the other side of Rue Lebeau to the Royal Library. Now that fabric is in danger of being torn apart.
Chris Bosma, Sablon inhabitant and member of the Sauve Lebeau Sablon (SLS) campaign group told The Bulletin: "The public has yet to see exactly what they are now proposing because most of the submitted projects have not been made public. We are operating completely in the dark and the consequences need to be thoroughly studied."
Dominique Vautier, a Sablon gallery owner, local resident and SLS member said: "The new plan would include parking for 400 cars which goes against the current emphasis on public transport and light mobility.
"Also the Sablon is called that for a reason - the ground is sandy soil and digging deep to include parking is an action fraught with danger to the surrounding buildings.
"When a bus stop was constructed there recently (a minor construction), the jackhammer work caused the houses along Rue Lebeau to tremble noticeably.
"With the Royal Library’s decision to open its building towards the Sablon to connect it to the new mueums in the library, a comprehensive study of the whole area needs to be undertaken before anything is done. In the meantime, Immobel has refused to make public its latest plan."
Immobel is expected to make its demand for building permits in the next few weeks with public hearings set for October. The group is circulating a petition which has already garnered 700 signatures, but they have a goal of 4,000 signatures to be presented at the public hearing.
They are also interested to hear from anyone who has experience in urbanism, architecture, or waging this sort of campaign and would like to help.
Nupur Tron, the owner, restorer and inhabitant of the Horta-designed Hôtel Frison and SLS member said: "It is very important that people understand that we are not against the conversion of the building, we are just very concerned with the scope of the project as it deeply impacts all of our lives.
"Architecture interlaces with life and leaves us a beautiful and intriguing lesson that unfolds a little a day. More that ever it’s important to be conscious of the impact of new development and its effect on our urban environment and the cultural heritage of the city."
You can contact the group by email at email@example.com