Court upholds appeals against holiday homes

A ruling from Switzerland’s top court made public on Wednesday threw thousands of Alpine holiday home development projects into disarray.

Court upholds appeals against holiday homes
Photo: Mirko Grifoni

Judges from the federal court’s first court of public law ruled that restrictions on the construction of secondary homes approved by voters last year under an initiative spearheaded by environmentalist Franz Weber apply from the date of the vote on March 11th 2012.

The supreme court said the restrictions apply to all applicable building permits issued after that date that have been appealed.

The court ruled that the initiative accepted by the voters is sufficiently clear without waiting for legislation from parliament, which has yet to be approved.

The initiative sets out limits on the construction of holiday homes that are “severe but clear,” Jean Fonjallaz, chief judge said, the SDA news agency reported.

The Weber initiative bans the approval of new holiday homes in communities where secondary homes account for 20 percent or more of the housing stock.

But municipalities in cantons such as Graubünden, Valais and Bern issued permits for holiday homes between March 11th and the end of 2012, believing they would be ruled legal.

Weber’s environmental organization Helvetia Nostra, meanwhile, filed more than 2,000 appeals against secondary home permits approved during the period.

It is not clear how many housing units are involved.

The supreme court ruled the group had the right to make such appeals.

The organization’s initiative aimed to prevent scenic and natural areas of Swiss countryside, particularly in the Alps, from being spoiled by overdevelopment.

But real estate developers and builders said they were shocked by the court’s rulings.

The Swiss society of entrepreneurs (SSE) cited a study that showed 7,000 jobs could be lost in mountain regions because of the decisions under a worst-case scenario.

The Swiss association of real estate owners said in a statement that the court decision creates new insecurities and puts in danger significant investments already made.

Authorities in the cantons of Graubünden and Valais, both areas where mountain resort development is a mainstay of the local economy, had earlier ruled that the Weber initiative did not immediately take effect after last year’s vote.

“The federal judges did not follow our point of view, shared by a majority of law professors,” Jean-Michel Cina, Valais cabinet minister reponsible for land management told the ATS news agency.

Cina added that the supreme court had not clarified all the legal points on the issue.

The federal department of land development is putting the final touches to proposed legislation for the “Lex Weber” that the federal government is to put out for consultation before the summer break.

The government had initially set a provisional ordinance for the legislation to take effect on January 1st this year, subject to the supreme court’s rulling.

That ruling would seem to indicate that the law will now be retroactive to March 11th 2012.

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Five German words you’ll need to know this summer

The onset of sunny weather in Switzerland means it is time to brush up on your summer-related vocabulary.

Five German words you'll need to know this summer
'Kapellbrücke – Also know as the Chapel Bridge – is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, as well as the world's oldest surviving truss bridge. It serves as the city's symbol and as one of Switz

1. Affenhitze – scorching heat 

A long-tailed macaque monkey enjoys frozen fruit, which helps it to stay cool in warm temperatures at the Zoo in Saarbrücken, Saarland. Photo: DPA 

When translated directly, Affenhitze means monkey heat, but in this instance it is actually used to describe exceptionally hot weather or scorching heat. 

So if you want to comment on what a scorcher of a day it is, you should say “Heute ist eine Affenhitze”. 

2. Sauregurkenzeit or Sommerloch – the quiet when everyone is on holiday

The mid-summer weeks in July and August were typically when schools and offices were empty. There wasn't much going on in the city since the inhabitants went on holiday during this period, and consequently businessmen found it tricky to make money.

Hence Sommerloch became synonymous with the quiet when everyone goes on holiday.

The word – which translates literally to 'summer hole' – is typically used by the media when they have difficulties filling their newspapers for lack of events when politicians flee the city. 

3. Sommerfrische – summer retreat

And where do all of the city folk rush off to during the Sommerloch? To their Sommerfrischen of course. 

Sommerfrische, a slightly outdated term for summer holiday retreat, can be in the mountains, by the sea, or tucked away in the countryside.

Such retreats are popular with those who can afford to escape their busy city lives and enjoy the pleasant summer temperatures in a relaxed atmosphere. 

4. Hitzefrei – when schools have to shut due to hot weather

Teachers and pupils sometimes end up working in warm temperatures if school runs into summer, though the Swiss do draw the line if thermometers register between 25C and 30C in the shade.

At this point, staff and students are sent home, and the day is deemed Hitzefrei, or heat-free. 

5. Kaltstellen – to chill something in the fridge

A man takes chilled beers from the fridge in the July heat in Hanover, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

In theory you can use this word at any time of year, but you'll probably find yourself employing it more in summer when the baking hot weather leaves you in want of a cold beer, a chilled glass of wine or refreshing summery cocktail.

Kaltstellen means to keep something cool in the fridge, and can also be used colloquially to mean to sideline someone or throw someone out.