Safdie wants name removed from building plan

A prominent Israeli architect on Wednesday disassociated himself from a controversial construction plan he drew up to expand Jerusalem westward which has been frozen following a major public campaign by environmentalists who said that the project will irrevocably damage the Jerusalem landscape. The much-debated proposal, named after the internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie who designed the original plan, would have seen the construction of 20,000 housing units on more than 26 square kilometers of natural woodlands and forests west of Jerusalem in one of the largest construction projects ever proposed in Israel. The contentious building plan, which has been on the drawing boards for much of the last decade was frozen last month by Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski following one of the biggest environmental struggles in the country in years. In a Tuesday letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and to Lupolianski, Safdie asked that his name be stricken from the now-frozen plan, even as he called on the premier to restore his original building proposal. He added that the westward expansion plan was both "unavoidable" and "essential" for the future of Jerusalem. The architect, who had remained on the sidelines during the height of the public debate over the plan, had faced mounting criticism over the proposal. Proponents of the city's westward expansion plan, including Olmert, had argued that it was essential for the natural growth of Jerusalem, with its notoriously high real estate prices, and continuing Jewish emigration. They had also asserted that the plan was necessary since there was almost no room to build in Jerusalem, even though other studies indicated that there was in fact room for such growth. The environmentalist and green groups, which vociferously oppose the plan repeatedly, stressed that it will irrevocably alter Jerusalem's historic vistas and destroy the remnants of green open spaces around the city. An alternate plan to build eastward to the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim has been frozen due to American opposition. Safdie has said that had the government approved an eastward expansion plan he never would have drawn up a proposal to expand Jerusalem to the west. An Interior Ministry committee is slated to meet again next week to discuss the now uncertain future of the plan.