Municipal matters

It is easy to exude cynicism and castigate 3 Sharon-area mayors as crass electoral opportunists for opposing plans to build 23,000 housing units.

August 11, 2013 00:26
3 minute read.
A city under construction

City construction. (photo credit: Moshe Shai / Flash 90)

It is easy to exude cynicism and castigate three Sharon-area mayors as crass electoral opportunists for opposing plans to build 23,000 housing units on what doubtless is this country’s most toxic soil.

The Israel Lands Authority brushed aside the opposition the three expressed at a recent joint press conference and derided it as a vote-getting stunt ahead of October’s municipal elections. But the mayors’ point of view deserves better than to be dismissed out of hand. This is serious business.

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The mayors of Herzliya, Ramat Hasharon and Hod Hasharon vowed to fight plans to construct housing on the 760-hectare spread that has for decades been a major manufacturing complex for Israel Military Industries – Ta’as.

The rambling industrial facility borders all three cities, and has in the past constituted a major safety hazard, to say nothing of the acute soil contamination created there from the 1950s onward. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the country.

Nonetheless, it is a prime real-estate location. It is undeniably peerless both in terms of value and toxicity.

Thus the conventional wisdom heretofore was that by selling expensive housing units in a desirable location, enough revenue can be generated to finance this country’s most challenging decontamination project to date.

This begat the plan to build 23,000 housing units on the vacated Ta’as complex, which means that considerably more than 100,000 people would live atop underground pollution, whose extent might be worst than assumed.

The green lobby had consistently decried this plan as “a potentially unprecedented ecological disaster.”

But besides cogent health concerns there are apprehensions about jamming another city-size population center into the junction of three cities, thereby contributing to overcrowding, adding to the region’s paralyzing traffic bottlenecks and undermining all notions of population dispersal.

The mayors instead vow to turn the area into a giant green lung for the Sharon and Dan regions – a large park that would offer outdoor recreation facilities and a much-necessary escape from the concrete and asphalt of central Israel – one of the world’s most densely populated urban stretches.

This would mean, of course, that the decontamination costs would have to be funded from the public coffers rather than by home-buyers. Yet whereas the estimated decontamination bill to facilitate residential use is NIS 2 billion, for a park an outlay of NIS 50 million- NIS 100 m. would do.

Most likely the Israel Lands Authority is loath to forgo the hefty revenue expected from selling such sought-after property. But should short-term pocketbook considerations outweigh the long-term consequences of settling so many families on such questionable land and further congesting a section of the country that is already too clogged? The ILA disparaged the three mayors for allegedly pandering to the electorate, knowing full well that the construction plans are unpopular while the park is popular. But is that not what representative democracy is all about? Do elected officials not have to be attuned to their voters’ preferences and do they not owe the public support for what it wants? This presumably is why we have the ballot box.

Is there no significance to the fact that the park is popular while a concentration of high-rise apartment towers is not? Does the fact that the region’s residents do not want another crammed city in their midst not merit a hearing? The ILA further justifies its stand by charging that the three municipalities all along supported construction blueprints for the Ta’as industrial campus and only recently and suddenly performed an expedient about-face.

Even if we accept this contention for the sake of argument, however, it does not shake the validity of opposition to the monster housing development.

There is nothing illegitimate in a change of mind.

We can only hope that the municipalities remain adamant in their opposition to this ill-conceived development project even after the October 22 elections and that they do not eventually acquiesce to a compromise that combines the worst of two worlds.

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