Not the average housing development

Eco-village in the Elah Valley promises comfort - if you can afford it.

color home 88 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
color home 88 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
This isn't your average housing development. A new planned community in the Elah Valley, called Gva'ot Eden or "Eden Hills," is looking to forge a new model of affluent eco-conscious living, right in the center of Israel. The project, a dream New York-raised Jake Leibowitz has carried with him for nearly two decades, now has 150 families signed on, mostly American Jews, and on Thursday saw Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim affix a mezuza on the doorpost of the village's first building, its on-site corporate office. Above ground, Eden Hills will resemble an American planned community sporting a very Israeli pedestrian "cardo" cutting through its middle, along with streams and ornamental lakes. Surrounded by forest - more than 800 trees have already been planted on the site - and an archaeological park, the village will be constructed of eco-friendly building materials and will use clean technologies in some innovative ways. According to Leibowitz, almost all the home-buyers are religious, with the average age in the late 30s and early 40s, most have children, and virtually all are making aliya. "We're not going allow the community to become a ghost town," Leibowitz vows, referring to a phenomenon affecting some affluent Jerusalem neighborhoods, where wealthy foreign Jews purchase vacation homes that lie empty most of the year. Leibowitz promises to moderate the selling if too many would-be part-time residents express interest. Though the smallest townhouses can be had for perhaps $400,000, several future residents are already designing immense villas with seven-figure price tags. What are they getting for all that money? Besides residing in Israel, and in luxury, they are buying clean living, according to Leibowitz. Indeed, the ecological element is no careless marketing tactic; it is the heart and soul of the venture. "Ecology is a nice word," says Oded Alon, project manager for the new village, "but you have to turn it into details." And the plans are extremely detailed, from a layout that will cut internal traffic by allowing one-third of residents to enter their parking spots directly from the access road to the village, to a unique underground tunnel, six meters in width and accessible to humans, that will carry all the infrastructure of the village - power lines, television and phone cables, digital communications, water, sewage, even a pneumatic tube for clean garbage disposal and a monorail for automated delivery of goods from store to consumer - to every home's basement. Residents "won't have to worry about electromagnetic fields," enthuses Leibowitz. "We'll never need to dig up a street to get at the infrastructure," Alon says with a similar excitement. "In three minutes, a technician on a motorcycle will rush down the corridor to fix a water leak or short-circuit." The pneumatic garbage removal will mean that homes will no longer need garbage bins, or have to deal with "the rats, feral cats and cockroaches that are associated with garbage," according to an Eden Hills press release. The high-tech village will offer a level of safety few Israelis enjoy. The company employs an ex-IDF bomb shelter expert who has developed a special standard for the village's protected rooms that is about 40 percent stronger than the current Israeli standard. The special protected areas, mandated by law and used in Sderot almost every day, will be opened to residents of neighboring towns in case of a Sderot-style rocket attack in the area. The initial investment in the underground corridor will be costly, admits Alon, but the corridor will only expand slowly as the village grows, and "will be much cheaper in the long term" by eliminating the need for regular road construction. Other clean technologies will bring tremendous long-term savings, adds Leibowitz. A geothermal well has already been dug on premises and the company is experimenting with using frigid subterranean temperatures to air-condition buildings, a method Alon believes could cut cooling bills in half. Throw in solar energy and extensive use of purified recycled wastewater for the gardens, and "everything becomes cheaper," says Alon. If that's not enough, the whole ultra-connected village will feature an opt-in central command center for fire safety and security, along with a "smart home" service offering centralized control over the home. "On vacation in America, a resident will be able to open the windows of their home to air out the house," says Alon. "On the land where our ancestor Yehuda once made his home, and his descendent King David defeated the giant Goliath, this ancient land is now stirring with a new story," reads the company's Web site. It may be a sign of the times that this new story will include a boutique hotel and spa, assisted living residence, strip mall and winery.