Ministry ‘tampering’ with Jerusalem master plan

Municipality: New clause would concentrate on undeveloped hills, not existing neighborhoods.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
December 6, 2011 05:21
3 minute read.
A construction site in J'lem's  Gilo neighborhood

Gilo Construction 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

 
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The Jerusalem Municipality slammed a decision by the Interior Ministry to add a clause to the ministry’s master plan for Jerusalem that would allow construction in Jerusalem’s southern and western hills in a currently undeveloped area known as the White Ridge.

The idea for construction is left over from the Safdie Plan, a controversial plan designed by architect Moshe Safdie that advocated for building tens of thousands of homes spread out over Jerusalem’s western hills.

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Environmental organizations, including the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), fought vehemently against the plan. The municipality decided it would be more useful for the city to try to increase the density of existing neighborhoods and improve services within Jerusalem, rather than expanding into the hills. After more than 16,000 public objections were filed to the plan, the Safdie plan was rejected by the National Planning and Building Committee in 2007.

On Tuesday, the National Planning and Building Committee will approve a master plan for Jerusalem that designates land-use for the regions in and around the city. On September 27, the Interior Ministry’s Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved a measure that classified the White Ridge area, south of the city, next to Gilo, as a location that could eventually be zoned for housing.

While there are no plans currently in the works for the area, it means future building projects could be approved in a much easier process, rather than forcing a change in the entire master plan of the city.

City officials called the approval “totally contrary to the current urban planning policy for strengthening and developing Jerusalem,” and accused the Interior Ministry of infringing on its authority to make its own decisions.

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“What they’re doing is not only undermining national planning council’s decision to accept recommendation by putting in things they said should definitely not be there, worse than that, they’re undermining the declared policy of city of Jerusalem,” said Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur who holds the environmental and planning portfolios.

Tsur, the former head of the Jerusalem branch of SPNI, worked to cancel the Safdie plan four years ago with SPNI. She called it “urban suicide” for Jerusalem to try to expand beyond its current borders without improving the city center.

Tsur sent a letter to the National Building and Planning Committee ahead of Tuesday’s meeting and called for the immediate cancellation of the clause. The city’s legal department said the reclassification of White Ridge was illegal, because it represented a significant change to the master plan without proper consultation of the municipality.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach dismissed the claims as “a lot of noise,” and stressed the change to the master plan did not mean building would start anytime soon, if at all.

“In the future it might be possible to build there, and they decided to classify it such that they could build with limits in keeping with the environment,” said Orbach.

The White Ridge area is currently the site of Emek Refaim Park, part of the new Jerusalem Park system that creates a green ring around the city with more than 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of protected parklands. Four different parks at the city’s perimeter will be linked by a 42 km. bicycle path and hiking routes. Additionally, an extreme sport center, horse riding center, water park, outdoor education center, sport fields, picnic areas, and arboretum will be created in the park system, a NIS 250 million endeavor funded by the Jerusalem Municipality, Prime Minister’s Office, Jerusalem Development Authority, and Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The park’s completion depends on the completion of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high speed train, which is currently under construction, but 12 km. of the bike path are already paved and additional infrastructure work is underway.

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