Ramot residents battle to keep 'J'lem's last open hill' green

Opponents of construction plan say apartment units will attract haredi residents, causing locals to flee.

ramot 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ramot 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hundreds of concerned Ramot residents have renewed their fight to keep Mitzpe Naftoach, the last remaining non-built up hill in Jerusalem, an open area for hiking and a cornucopia of flora and fauna. Ramot for the Environment, a resident-founded NGO, has managed to stave off any construction on the hill for seven years since its inception in 2001. In 2004, they filed a petition with the High Court of Justice against the municipality's plans, citing their ecological and economic unfeasibility, chairwoman Hilary Herzberger told The Jerusalem Post Monday. The residents were galvanized after the municipality released a detailed plan last month to build 1,600 apartments atop the hill, which is adjacent to Ramot Bet. They met Sunday night to determine their strategy of opposition to Plan 6885. "Mitzpe Naftoach is one of the last open spaces Ramot residents have. There is a herd of Israeli gazelle and 450 species of plants that need to be protected," Herzberger said. Residents walk atop the hill on nature trails created by Ramot for the Environment. Instead of a construction plan, the NGO plans to put forward a design for an urban nature park. In addition to the need to preserve open spaces, there are also economic and aesthetic reasons to oppose the construction, the organization's lawyer, Dr. Benjamin Hyman, noted. He said that new apartment units would probably be gobbled up by haredi families because of a lack of space for the city's growing haredi community. "If they build on the hill, then Ramot residents, who are a mix of secular and religious, and represent a community with a high socio-economic status - the kind that supports Jerusalem financially - would consider abandoning the city," Hyman told the Post. According to Herzberg, the new units would be built of drab concrete, without the red roofs that help Ramot blend into the green, and would constitute a severe eyesore on the road to Jerusalem. Israel's capital city should be prettier, she said. The city has published its plans for the hilltop despite the pending petition and the residents' objection. The High Court ruled that the city could do so, but required the municipality to place ads in local newspapers informing the public that there was still a petition pending in the High Court. Herzberger has been mobilizing her fellow residents to lodge as many objections to the plan with the city as possible. Last month, Jonathan Roth, another concerned resident, organized a group of 60 families in opposition to the plan as soon as it was published. According to Roth, several real estate developers have been pushing the project. "We're going to enlist all sorts of experts - transportation, environmental, economic - to convince the city that this plan just doesn't make sense," he told the Post. Hyman said the residents planned to adopt a strategy similar to the one that defeated the Safdie plan, which called for a housing expansion west of the city. "We will argue that there is no need to further expand into open spaces. There are enough building reserves within Jerusalem already," he explained.