German Colony residents speak out for status quo

Town hall-style gathering protests plans for building hotels in neighborhood.

german colony 88 (photo credit: )
german colony 88
(photo credit: )
When Maya Sarna of North Talpiot saw illustrations of proposed hotel developments in the German Colony's Omariya Compound, she said she feared for the future of one of Jerusalem's most unique neighborhoods. "It makes me wonder if some of the city planners want us to experience living near the separation barrier with a huge wall between us and things of beauty," said Sarna as she passed out copies of a protest letter to those attending a town hall meeting opposing the construction. "It's important that we, as a community, feel empowered to have things that are good for everyone and not just a select few," she said. "We have a real connection to the city and this is something that matters to us." Sarna was one of approximately 500 community members who gathered at the International Cultural Center for Youth, on Sunday evening. Part of an ongoing campaign aimed at preventing changes to an already approved plan for two luxury hotels, the forum featured panels of architects and noteworthy residents expressing their concerns. "We show people the images of the future hotels and they are stunned," said Marik Shtern, one of the campaign coordinators. "Everyone wants to help and do what they can to help stop it." Local volunteers of all ages distributed pamphlets illustrating how the development would affect the German Colony skyline. A plan proposed in the 1980s and approved in 2001 allowed for a small, 7-story Four Seasons hotel. A new proposal asks to double the floor-space and height of the hotel in order to accommodate 80 luxury apartments. According to campaign organizer Joshua Levinson, the hotel, which he called a "Herodian monstrosity," would not be so unwelcome if it fit with the character of the German Colony. The neighborhood is characterized by low Templar houses reminiscent of the original settlers. "You can have development without destroying the texture of the neighborhood," Levinson said. He pointed to a Four Seasons in Istanbul - which he said blends with the surrounding historic architecture - as an example of the ideal development for Emek Refaim. But some residents would rather see the space closed to all commercial development. Harriet Scher, of the German Colony, said she would rather see the area used as a community space, "preserving as many trees and as much green as possible." Scher, who said she posted flyers advertising the event on her street, added that Jerusalem residents ignore the environmental implications. "It's important for Jerusalem to save any green space," she said. "There's very little to begin with and we're encroaching on that territory." As he greeted residents by name and ushered event attendees to the ongoing panel, Shtern said the controversy in the German Colony was part of a greater struggle to maintain Jerusalem's unique atmosphere. "It's not a local neighborhood fight, it's a campaign that all the residents of Jerusalem should identify with," he said. "We are fighting for the cultural heritage of Jerusalem. The character of the city is unique, and it's destroyed every time people build those big monster buildings that are good for the investors but not for the community."