Innovative creativity

The municipality has presented its own private construction plan.

safra square 88 (photo credit: )
safra square 88
(photo credit: )
And now, the latest development from Kikar Safra. The municipality, or at least one of its committees, might be going into business. The real estate business, that is. At least, so it would appear from this week's most recent decision taken by the municipal Planning and Construction Committee, headed by Deputy Mayor Rabbi Yehoshua Pollack (United Torah Judaism). Pollack used his right to vote twice to approve a plan to build 500 residential units on the Beitar lot in Bayit Vegan. That's right - the municipality has presented its own private construction plan. Now, that's something new. In the past, the lot had been awarded to the non-profit Jerusalem Soccer Association to serve as a training ground for the youth team. But the years have passed and the location has become prime real estate, most attractive to developers and contractors. Former mayor and current interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also thought that it would be a good idea to transform the green, "empty" hill into a prestigious (and expensive) new neighborhood. But it just isn't that simple. Several years ago, a group of citizens from the area around nearby Beit Hakerem had approached the Israel Lands Administration and requested a plot for a retirement home. They created a non-profit association and involved the local neighborhood administration. They reasoned that the idea of creating a home for the elderly, so that they could continue to live in their familiar surroundings, was a good enough reason for the ILA to award them a plot of land. No way, they were told. You'll have to go through a tender, whenever it's published, just like everyone else. And if there's a better offer, you'll lose. These are the rules, that's the way it goes. Yossi Avidan, head of the neighborhood administration in Beit Hakerem, acknowledges that, "the law is the law." We'll have to respect the decision, he told his fellow Beit Hakeremites. So imagine his surprise when he discovered that the rules are not always applied in the same way, and that the law isn't the same law for everyone. This week, he learned, a private company, supported by the municipality, was able to get what the senior citizens of Beit Hakerem were not able to get: a plot to build on, without having to go through the tender. Avidan is very cautious and doesn't want to sound petty: after all, as a citizen of this city, shouldn't he be happy that the municipality has eased the way for an upscale project that will bring some cash into the city's coffers? OK, he consoles himself, it's not so bad for the Beit Hakerem elderly, as long as the Holy City is being rebuilt. And even the real-estate sharks have to make a living (even if they feed on some fairly vulnerable smaller fish.) But what about the infrastructures, he asks? Nothing has been planned. "The infrastructure is all based on the infrastructure in Beit Hakerem, which is already old and shaky. I'm worried." Rabbi Pollack, on the other hand, isn't worried. The plans, he says, include some new infrastructure, which will be built on top of Road 16, which will, in the future, connect the lot with the newest exits from the city. So why isn't Avidan reassured? Because "Road 16" is still only a very vague idea, a glint in some planner's eyes and nobody knows when - or, for that matter, if - it will ever be completed. Three members of the opposition voted against approval of the project. They didn't like the fact that the plot had been allocated to the project private contractors without a tender, but that wasn't their main objection. Call them conservative or old-fashioned, but they have some reservations about this innovation. For the first time in local history, the municipality presented itself with a request for approval of a project for private construction. Does this confuse you, dear readers? Make you a little dizzy? You're not the only ones. "Since when does a municipality present itself with a project that is privately owned for approval?!" asks opposition City Council member Peppe Allalu (Meretz). "Rabbi Pollack says that it's a good project, that it will bring money to the city. If it's such a good project, why doesn't anyone [except the city] want to sign on it? Not the owner of the land - the ILA. Not the contractors. Not even the Interior Ministry's District Committee. "Why do they all expect us, the members of the municipal Planning and Construction Committee and the city council, to sign off. Does this mean that they expect me, as a publicly elected official, to act as a private contractor??" Continues Allalu, "I was not elected to the city council to pave the road for developers." But Pollack voted twice (legally), and the project was approved. And we brave denizens have once again been reassured that nothing is beyond the municipality's creative, innovative skills.