Anger over crematorium plan: A gov’t about-face

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Anger over crematorium plan: A gov’t about-face

Residents in Wonji-dong say the Seoul city government is going back on its promise to compensate them for allowing a crematorium to be built in their neighborhood.

Construction on the crematorium in southern Seoul has already begun and is expected to be completed by April 2012.

Residents say the government had agreed to two conditions before letting the crematorium get built - first, residents would be able to build commercial businesses in the area, which was previously only zoned for residences, and second, a stream running through the area would be repaired to prevent flooding.

Neither has happened, residents say, and they feel exploited.

“We were given pieces of paper to write down our requests in return for building the crematorium site,” said Choi Jae-man, a leader of the group of citizens protesting. “So we filled them out and handed them back, but none of the requests were [agreed to].

“On Feb. 24, just a day before the groundbreaking ceremony, a senior government official gave us a verbal promise that we will have good news, but he deceived us.”

Angry residents put up banners in eight neighborhoods this spring, demanding that the Seoul Metropolitan Government keep its word.

More than 5,000 residents live in those neighborhoods, a 1-kilometer (0.6 mile) radius within the crematorium construction site, according to the protest group.

Residents had successfully fought building a crematorium in Wonji-dong for 10 years, but they changed their mind when Seoul Metropolitan Government accepted their two conditions.

In Korea, when a metropolitan government has shown the intent to build a cremation site and decided on an area for construction, it has generally been met by fierce opposition from residents, citing environmental pollution problems and a drop in real estate prices. They also have objected to the smoke and odor and the dreary aspect of the facilities.

“The zoning change doesn’t even cost Seoul Metropolitan Government money,” said Hong Chun-gil, a 57-year-old resident. “It’s just paperwork to indirectly compensate residents. Many here are infuriated about the city government’s complete about-face.”

Shin Myeong-ho, an official at the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s welfare and health bureau, said the zoning change isn’t the his call.

“Seoul Metropolitan Government’s review committee decided on the change of land use after the Seocho District Office made a request to the Seoul city government,” Shin said. “What I promised to the residents at that time was that the bureau would make sure to deliver the residents’ position when the committee asked our opinion about it.”

The Seocho District Office said it had asked the Seoul city government to hold off on issuing a change in land use.

“We need to be patient dealing with this matter,” said Lee Jae-hong, an official at the Seocho District Office.

By Kim Mi-ju, Park Tae-hee [ ]
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