Business owners: New zoning laws are discriminatory

Religious freedom group claims initiative is attempt by haredi politicians to curtail night life, places of entertainment in Jerusalem.

September 16, 2011 05:47
3 minute read.
Uri Regev

Uri Regev. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Jerusalem City Council is expected to discuss and approve a new law at the city council meeting next week that would limit hours that businesses are open in residential neighborhoods. The current law about business hours dates from 1955 and is outdated, said city council members.

The new law will divide neighborhoods into districts based on whether they are heavily residential or heavily commercial, requiring businesses in heavily residential areas to close earlier.

The new law is being met with severe opposition from Hiddush, a religious freedom advocacy group, and business owners, who claim that the initiative is an attempt by haredi (ultra-Orthodox) politicians to curtail night life and places of entertainment in the city.

“We’re talking about a proposed bylaw that is unnecessary and dangerous and never should have been born,” said Hiddush director Rabbi Uri Regev. “It’s unclear why Nir Barkat initiated this law and we hope he’ll return to his ways and not give into the pressure from the haredi activists,” he said.

The organization also expressed concern that the new law would make it easy for a future haredi-controlled city council to apply the more stringent laws to the entire city, not just residential areas.

David Levy, the owner of Bar Ilan Pizza and Kebab Burger in a northern Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, slammed the proposal, which he said unfairly affected businesses in haredi areas.

“On Bar Ilan Street, there are so many cars going past 24 hours a day that closing one or two stores won’t affect anything,” he said.

But City Council member David Hershkovitz (Yerushalayim Beiteinu) denied that the new law would adversely affect businesses.

“We’re trying to find a compromise between the need of people to live their lives and the need of businesses to be open, but it’s important to let people sleep in their neighborhoods,” he said.

He said the new law was “absolutely not” a haredi initiative, though he agreed that it would affect haredi neighborhoods more since those areas are less commercial and more residential.

He added that the city supported the proposed law, planned to come into effect in March 2012, in an effort to regulate nighttime noise complaints so police are not continually returning to the same problematic areas.

At the beginning of this year, when the proposed law was first discussed, the municipality said the current zoning rules are from 1955 and not enforced. The current laws only allow restaurants and bars to operate from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The municipality also noted that businesses would be able to apply for exceptions to the new zoning laws and present their cases before a committee that could grant them longer hours. Hershkovitz said the permits would cost around NIS 200 and would be approved by a separate committee.

One of the areas of concern is an up-and-coming area around the Mahaneh Yehuda market, which in the past few years has transformed into a night life destination, with tiny pubs that seat no more than 20 people scattered in the narrow streets around the shuk. The noise from the night life irritates many in the traditional neighborhood.

The area around the shuk, as well as the downtown area and the Rehavia neighborhood’s Azza Street, are set to be included in “night activity” zones that may have later closure times, the municipality said earlier.

Hundreds of young people attended a New Year’s Eve protest party against the proposed closure times this year.

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