Environmentalists call for assessment by outside body, say ‘city cannot be the one giving itself permission to build.’

By extending its existing beachside promenade, Herzliya intends to make larger portions of its coastline accessible to more people in an environmentally sound manner, officials said on Monday.

In response to burgeoning pressure from environmental activists against the city’s plans to build a promenade at the Zvulun Beach, municipal officials said at a news conference that the promenade would also maintain the width of the beach and preserve the integrity of the dirt escarpment that protects the line of hotels on the shore.

The NIS 16 million construction plan is Phase II in a project aimed at extending the existing promenade that lines the Acadia Beach area to the south.

“The challenge that stands before us is to improve the situation of the Zvulun Beach and its accessibility to the public,” said Mayor Yael German.

“This, while protecting environmental principles and maintaining the width of the beach and its natural aspects.”

The promenade will extend 650 meters, from the Daniel Hotel to the Tzuk Tower, next to the escarpment that lines the beach’s east side. More than half of the trail, according to the municipality, will be built along an old route from the 1980s.

The municipality says the promenade will also act as a breakwater for waves crashing ashore in the winter. The path will be elevated about two meters above sea level, providing a trail with a moderate slope and allowing people to walk on the beach all year.

“Under no circumstance will we allow harm to the beach – the goal is to maintain the beach as a natural resource that Herzliya is blessed with, a beautiful coastline, to make it accessible and emphasize the natural aspects and the beauty and uniqueness,” German said.

The city presented survey results from a study conducted by the Dahaf Research Institute, showing that up to 75 percent of Herzliya’s residents supported the plan.

“Today, it’s mostly a group of young surfers who enjoy this beach, and they love the fact that the beach is deserted most of the year,” said Yariv Fischer, chairman of the Herzliya Municipal Tourism Development Corporation.

“Contrary to their demands to preserve the beach as is, we receive complaints from residents about neglect of the beach and about the difficulties in access,” Fischer explained. “Our mission is to make it accessible to everyone – to parents with strollers, to the disabled, to the elderly, to all residents of the city and the surrounding areas, and also to protect it.”

Lynette Rofe, chairwoman of Kanaf, an organization for people with physical disabilities, stressed that she and fellow members were excited about being able to use the beach, even with wheelchairs. “Every place that others go, I also want to be able to reach and move about freely,” Rofe said. “Now my friends and I expect to go down and travel north on the path, which will be built on the Zvulun Beach. I welcome the initiative and think it shows the compassion and consideration of the general public.”

About a week-and-a-half ago the city agreed to temporarily stop work after the environmental advocacy group Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) asked for a statutory clarification with the appeals commission at the District Council for Planning and Building.

While the group is not against the promenade in principle, its leaders maintain that the planning and building process is being carried out illegally.

In order to build the promenade, the city needs permits from both the district council as well as the Committee to Save the Coastal Environment.

At this point it has neither, according to Adam Teva V’Din executive director Amit Bracha.

The organization is currently conducting a survey of its own, with the findings scheduled to be published soon, aimed at showing how the city is not leaving enough of its coastline open and how the cliffs still face potential damage, according to Bracha.

It is crucial, therefore, that an outside body conduct an assessment, he explained.

“That’s why they cannot be the ones giving themselves permission to build,” he said.

In response, German said she would comply with whatever statutory decision the committee made and that there would be no difference in opinion between the city and Adam Teva V’Din. Both had worked together seamlessly before, she explained.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan sent German a letter saying the ministry had found many problems with the building permits for the Zvulun promenade.

“Checks by professional people at my office and the data they conveyed [show] many problems in the building permit… and that prior to building, the city should have conducted a comprehensive environmental assessment involving professionals such as those in this office.”

Erdan also pointed out that the contractor had exceeded the zone that had been assigned to him and was violating the terms of the permit, saying “the city acted in an unreasonable manner with regard to the public and with regard to unnecessarily damaging the preservation of the coastal environment.”

In response, German wrote to Erdan that he had been exposed to “lies” spread by local activists and that he should realize that the promenade would provide all members of the public with greater accessibility to the beach.

She stressed that the city had stopped all work immediately as soon as it learned that the contractor had gone beyond the zone stipulated by the permit. She added her regret that Erdan had been given a “unilateral impression” before hearing all the facts from the municipality, and she personally invited him to come see the plans and hear the city’s side.