Stepping on the neighbors' toes

Nachlaot resident: 'This is one of the loveliest streets in Jerusalem. How can they just come here and do this?'

nahlaot 298.88 (photo credit: courtesy)
nahlaot 298.88
(photo credit: courtesy)
It has become a clich for Jerusalemites to complain about foreigners snatching up property in the capital, driving up real estate prices and transforming the city. However, in a recent instance in Nahlaot the clich has proven to be true, as a recent refurbishment and redesign of part of Rehov Hamadregot (the steps) was done not by the municipality, but by a private property owner, eliciting organized protest from immediate neighbors. A contractor received permission from the municipality not only to destroy a free-standing house and build a two-story apartment building in its place plus parking, but also to conduct work on the street itself. A small section of the once-open pedestrian area at the top of Hamadregot (near Even Sapir) has effectively been divided in two; a driveway has been created to allow automobile access to the property, and the other half of the street has been rebuilt as a series of staircases, in line with the theme of the street. According to neighbor Guy Shultz, about two weeks ago, builders constructed a wall around the area, blocking access to the residents. They then proceeded to destroy the existing stonework and rebuild. They took down the wall shortly after, although work continued. The house itself, slated to be destroyed, has not yet been touched. Shultz and some other neighbors were shocked by the noise and rubble, and quickly organized a protest against the project, which took place last Sunday and drew about 50 people. The neighbors have also organized a petition that more than 100 people have signed. "This is one of the loveliest streets in Jerusalem," Shultz says while observing the workers. "How can they just come here and do this?" He explains that the workers come early and leave late, attempting to finish as quickly as possible. "They know what they are doing and planned this all out." Shultz says that the neighborhood has come together and the protests have created a deeper feeling of community among the residents. One neighbor, Jonathan Walton (also known as Lemez Lovas of the English Klezmer-pop group Oi Va Voy) has written a song about the event and will probably perform it on his band's upcoming European tour. Pointing to a cluster of parked motor scooters near the construction, Shultz explains that this area of the street, like much of Hamadregot, was closed to vehicles. Now, there is access to this section for cars and scooters, where once they would have to park on Even Sapir. "It's a rich religious American," says another neighbor as she passes by. "He bought it for his daughter. He will rent out the apartments and she will live there. They want to make the whole neighborhood more haredi. I know it sounds terrible, but I don't like the haredim." There seems to be some question as to who is the actually owner of the property. The original owner, when contacted by In Jerusalem, explained that there were lots of rumors flying around and that the house was still his. He declined to comment further and promised to put In Jerusalem in touch with someone who could explain things, but had not done so by press time. Meanwhile, despite the neighborhood effort, the work on Hamadregot has been basically completed. A wall near the construction has been adorned with posters and signs; one reads "Congratulations Nahlaot residents! Instead of seven parking spaces, you now have three," alluding to the fact that before the work, the corner of Hamadregot and Even Sapir was actually more open and more cars could park there. According to Jerusalem municipal spokesman Gideon Schmerling, "All the work is being carried out in accordance with the building permit, which includes development of the plot." However, the protests seem to have made at least a small impression at Kikar Safra. "The department for building inspection will check the claims regarding the construction of parking, and whether there is any violation of the building permit," Schmerling concludes.