Demand for stricter application of holiday homes law

Vera Weber saw room for compromise Marcel Bieri

Environmentally minded proponents of the “Lex Weber” law approved by Swiss voters nearly three years ago complain the government is intent on weakening the law’s aim of setting limits on new holiday homes.

This content was published on February 19, 2015

The Franz Weber Foundation and an affiliated group, Helvetia Nostra, on Thursday denounced what they described as lax implementation of a people’s initiative which calls for the construction of second homes to be restricted to 20% of residential zones and of the total surface area of each commune.

But while they demanded stricter implementation of the law, Vera Weber, president of the environmental foundation, also saw room for compromise in parliament.

Voters backed the idea that Swiss tourism depends on keeping natural landscapes free of too many second homes. Switzerland’s highest court later decided that the new limits would apply to building permits issued as of March 2012, when the initiative was accepted.

A study by the BAK Basel research institute found that around 2,500 second homes a year were built in Switzerland between 2000 and 2010, drawing annual investments worth CHF1.2 billion ($1.3 billion).

Some of the tourist regions have been anxious about expected job losses and other economic consequences from the timing of the new law. A flood of building permit applications arrived after the vote in cantons Valais, Graubünden, Vaud and Bern, where ski resorts help draw large numbers of tourists, because applicants believed the new law would not take effect immediately.

An emergency measure to be discussed in parliament next month contains a “catalogue of exemptions” to the law that indicate lawmakers do not seem to have heard the people’s voice, according to a statement from the groups. The problems, they said, range from too many loopholes for hotels and investment homes to the use of ill-defined legal terms.

Weber, whose father, a well-known ecologist, created the foundation that bears his name in 1975, said she remained optimistic about the debate looming in March in the House of Representatives.

“The will of the people can still be respected,” she said on Thursday. “We can still discuss and find a good Swiss compromise.”

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