Holyland building frozen for 100 days

J’lem planning body holds hearings on legitimacy of permits.

By ABE SELIG
May 4, 2010 07:29
3 minute read.
The Holyland project in Jerusalem (AP).

holyland 311. (photo credit: AP)

A fiery committee hearing at the Jerusalem Municipality on Monday afternoon ended with a decision to freeze construction for 100 days at the luxurious Holyland housing complex, which has been the focus of a massive corruption scandal over recent weeks.

The decision by city’s Local Planning and Construction Committee to temporarily halt construction at the site, however, was based on a request for additional permits to authorize foundation work for three more buildings that were planned for the complex, and not the ongoing investigation into the widespread bribery that allegedly proceeded the Holyland’s initial construction.

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Allegations surfaced last month that millions of shekels had been passed on to a slew of city officials – extending all the way to former Jerusalem mayors Uri Lupolianski and Ehud Olmert – in return for their help in advancing the project.

Numerous arrests have been made in the case and many public protests have arisen in the face of what has been labeled one of Israel’s worst corruption cases ever.

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Nonetheless, after deliberating for more than two hours on Monday, and hearing testimonies from a team of lawyers representing Holyland Park Ltd. – the conglomerate that has developed and owns the sprawling south Jerusalem housing project – committee members decided not to grant developers the permits needed to begin digging foundations for the three buildings.

Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon, who presided over Monday’s hearing, presented committee members with data he said warranted the suspension of further construction at Holyland, as the authorizations previously given for the project did not cover the developers’ current requests for additional housing.

According to Kahlon, there are currently permits for 79 additional housing units at the complex, as opposed to the 210 units the potential three new buildings would constitute.

Nonetheless, Holyland representatives lambasted committee members during the meeting, claiming they had always known the details of the project and were only bringing up the authorization issues because of the corruption scandal and the public outcry that has accompanied it.

Attorney Rafi Ettinger, one of the Holyland representatives at Monday’s meeting, repeatedly called committee members “populists,” eliciting angry responses from Kahlon and his colleagues, who responded to Ettinger with heated requests to “remain polite” and “answer our questions.”

Ettinger, however, maintained that the remaining building permits were a minor detail, and under different circumstances – namely, in lieu of the corruption scandal – one that could be easily resolved.

“The remaining building percentages make little difference,” he told the committee. “Even if there was only one square meter that remained on each lot, a permit [to begin foundation work] could be issued.”

“Besides,” Ettinger continued, “you knew the numbers all along. This wasn’t discovered a month ago.”

Ettinger also said that hundreds of thousands of shekels had already been spent on searching the proposed construction site for antiquities or ancient graves – a common step taken in virtually all Jerusalem construction projects – and that these operations had nearly concluded.

Committee members were not moved, however, and after holding a final session behind closed doors at the end of Monday’s hearing, the Jerusalem Municipality announced the committee’s decision to impose a 100-day freeze on construction at the site, until the matter can be reviewed further.

A statement from the municipality added that “in the coming days, city officials will continue to discuss the matter.”

“In light of the uniqueness of this subject, the city has attached great importance to a thorough examination of the issue,” said Kahlon, according to the statement.

“Any further decision on the matter will be discussed by the Local [Planning and Construction] Committee.”


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