Will the Holyland corruption scandal open the door for reexamination of planning decisions and permits deviating from the norm that had been approved by those allegedly involved in the scandal? A group of Nahalat Ahim residents are hoping so with respect to a zoning change and building permit granted for a five-story structure on a street of two- and three-story buildings in their historical neighborhood.

A residential building of four stories plus an attic and garage, with 10 apartments, is currently under construction at Rehov Even Sapir 22, corner of Rehov Shabazi. Three stories have already been built.

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In 2005 the owners – Eliahu Cherny, Yissachar Steinberg and Efraim Gerlitz – were granted a zoning change for the plot by the Interior Ministry’s District Planning Committee. This enabled them to apply for a permit from the municipality’s Planning and Construction Committee to build what is, in effect, a five-story structure.

Residents claim that the approval process was flawed. “When the developer filed for a building permit from the municipality in October 2008, we received notification that we could object,” states Nahalat Ahim resident Louis Lipsky. “When we filed our objections, we were told they were not relevant, since we were asking to stop a project that conformed to zoning. Only then did we learn that there had been a request for rezoning. The same neighbors who were notified by the municipality about the request for a building permit should have been notified by registered letter about the request for rezoning. But no one was. The municipality said it had a lawyer’s affidavit that notifications had been sent out and it was now too late,” she says.

On April 14, residents wrote to Mayor Nir Barkat and other city and government officials requesting that construction be halted in light of the flawed process and the taint of alleged corruption surrounding those who approved the rezoning and permit. In addition, a new master plan for the neighborhood is now being finalized, and residents feel that all new construction should be frozen until the plan and its guidelines are in place.

“This is a historical district – a neighborhood for preservation,” says Nahalat Ahim resident Jude Wiener. “New buildings should fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.”

Nahalat Ahim is one of 32 neighborhoods, each with its own special character, that comprise the Nahlaot area of Jerusalem. It was founded in 1924 by Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Katz for Yemenites, many of whom had been forced out of Shiloah (Silwan) by Arab rioting in the 1920s. Today, Nahalat Ahim is defined as the section between Rehov Bezalel and Nahalat Tzadok/Sha’arei Hessed.

In Jerusalem spoke with an activist familiar with building issues and was told that the zoning change request was published in newspapers, as required by law. And even though the registered letters may not have been sent, this is probably not sufficient cause for receiving an order to halt construction, especially at this late stage in the game.

The municipal spokesman’s office told In Jerusalem that since the District Planning Committee of the Interior Ministry approved rezoning of the site in 2005, “We cannot prevent issuing a building permit based on an approved [zoning] plan.”

The spokesman’s office went on to say that, “In light of the many plans for this area, the municipality has decided to prepare a master plan for the entire Nahlaot area… whose goal is to set clear guidelines for the neighborhood with respect to all aspects of planning, including preservation, public space, building scope, etc. This plan has already been submitted to the municipal Planning and Construction Committee and has received its blessing… At the same time, the municipality has set up a team to examine every building plan and permit submitted from this area and [this team] is passing on its recommendations to the municipal Planning and Construction Committee so that these plans do not deviate from the principles decided upon in the overall plan. It is important to note that the process of finalizing these principles involved cooperation with the public at large and area residents.”
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