Jerusalem tries to put brakes on massive housing development

The Jerusalem municipality on Wednesday threatened to petition the High Court of Justice over what city officials view as the state’s efforts to ram through a controversial residential project.

The municipality wants a special fast-track zoning body to halt its deliberations on a plan to build thousands of homes on Lavan Ridge, in West Jerusalem.

The plan was debated yesterday for the first time by the Planning and Construction Committee for Priority Housing Areas, an Interior Ministry panel set up by the Finance Ministry to expedite residential projects as part of efforts to reduce home prices. The plan calls for the construction of 4,200 residential units on 850 dunams (213 acres) of forest and scrub land.

Deputy Jerusalem mayors Ofer Berkowitz and Tamir Nir walked out of the meeting when it became clear that the panel wanted to rush through the hearing and approve the plan. Berkowitz and Tal were especially angry that the panel was meeting in the absence of Mayor Nir Barkat, who had repeatedly told the committee he would be abroad at the time.

Environmental organizations including the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Jewish National Fund oppose the plan, but city hall has been the most vociferous critic of the project.

Barkat and other Jerusalem officials have also repeatedly decried what they say is the priority committee’s circumvention of their authority.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has said in response that mayors don’t make residential construction a priority, preferring instead to build commercial space, which is more lucrative for the cities.

Berkowitz yesterday gave the chairman of the priority committee, Binat Schwartz, a letter demanding the suspension of the panel’s deliberations on the project. If not, the letter said, the city would appeal to the High Court of Justice.

“The city has expressed its position that the hearing process in the priority housing committee is a short and expedited process that is not appropriate for such complex plans, that have generated strong public objections on the one hand and require complex planning coordination on the other,” the letter said.


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