By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
In a dramatic about-face, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski has frozen a plan to expand Jerusalem westward following a public campaign by environmentalists who said that the project would irrevocably damage the Jerusalem landscape, officials said Friday.
The much-debated proposal, named after internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who developed the original plan, would have seen the construction of 20,000 housing units on more than 26 square kilometers of natural woodlands west of Jerusalem, in one of the largest construction projects ever proposed in Israel.
The plan, which has been on the drawing boards for much of the last decade and previously had strong support from the municipality, was pending final approval by the Interior Ministry's national planning and building committee.
The panel has twice postponed a final decision on the project.
The mayor's decision, which was immediately lauded by green groups as "courageous," followed burgeoning protests, including a petition signed by 50 MKs from across the political spectrum.
Environmentalists are scheduled to meet with Lupolianski on Sunday to discuss alternate housing projects within the city, Lupolianski spokesman Gidi Schmerling said.
Proponents of the capital's westward expansion, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, argue it is essential for the natural growth of Jerusalem, with its high real estate prices and continuing Jewish flight.
They say the Safdie plan is necessary as there is almost nowhere to build in Jerusalem, although some studies have reported there actually is room for development.
The building and planning committee was to have determined just how much space is available in Jerusalem, but their deliberations are likely to become irrelevant due to the mayor's change of heart.
The environmentalist groups have repeatedly said the Safdie plan would irrevocably alter Jerusalem's historic vistas and destroy the remnants of open spaces around the city.
An alternate plan to build eastward toward Ma'aleh Adumim in Judea has been frozen due to American opposition.
Safdie has said that had the government approved an eastward
expansion he never would have drawn up a proposal to expand Jerusalem to the west.
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