Paris petanque paradise makes pitch to avoid eviction

The Lepic-Abbesses Petanque Club is fighting to keep its home in the Montmartre district of Paris (Christophe SIMON)
The Lepic-Abbesses Petanque Club is fighting to keep its home in the Montmartre district of Paris (Christophe SIMON)

A storied Paris petanque club on Tuesday argued in court against a city eviction order, hoping to stay put in a secluded garden coveted by its boutique hotel neighbour.

For 50 years, the leafy haven at the top of the Montmartre district has housed the Lepic-Abbesses Petanque Club (CLAP) and its 257 members, fans of France's national bowling pastime.

The players oversee the upkeep of the 765 square metres (8,200 square feet) of grounds, a rare remnant of the vegetation that once covered the butte, with the city giving tacit approval by hooking up water and electricity.

Even amid rapid gentrification and a surge of tourism the club maintained its Montmartre village vibe, with club access restricted to members and their guests.

But last year, city officials warned the nonprofit club that it was squatting the site without any authorisation, and said it would consider rival projects for use of the public land.

The CLAP says its the victim of the luxury Hotel Particulier adjacent to the site, whose owner is a former club member who wants his own private garden.

The hotel recently was given a 12-year contract to operate the site, which the club vowed to fight in court.

"No work was ever done on the site" by the city, the club's lawyer Sebastien Le Briero told the Paris administrative court, insisting that the club was the de facto occupant ensuring a rare green space in the area.

Lawyers for the city countered that no contracts were ever signed, and that games lasting into the night, helped along with clubhouse beers, had prompted noise complaints.

More than 7,000 people have signed an online petition to save the CLAP, calling it an essential part of Montmartre, which is hoping to join UNESCO's ranks of protected World Heritage Sites.

The hotel's owner, Oscar Comtet, told the Parisien newspaper on Monday that he is investing 600,000 euros ($640,000) to open up access to everyone, while renovating the gardens and tearing down the clubhouse.

But he promised to save a few of the petanque playing grounds and partly reserve their use for CLAP members -- but only during the day.

The club is not impressed.

"There will only be six grounds instead of 14 now, and they won't be up to regulations," the club's communications director Maxime Liogier told the paper.

The judge's ruling is expected on September 25, and the CLAP has said it will pursue other court challenges.