Planned expansion of Kfar Vradim would increase the population by 50 percent.
By Zafrir Rinat

A recently approved expansion of the Galilee town of Kfar Vradim has drawn fire from environmental groups, though the town council insists the plan took environmental concerns into account.

The expansion plan, approved by the northern district planning and building committee last week, will allow construction of more than 1,800 new dwellings in the town. As a result, Kfar Vradim’s population is expected to grow by more than 50 percent over the next two decades, up from its current level of almost 6,000. The plan also calls for adding commercial space, including construction of several bed-and-breakfasts.

But the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel claims the new construction, which will cover almost 1,700 dunams, is unnecessary and will damage the existing landscape. In particular, it says, the plan will damage a hitherto unbroken stretch of Mediterranean woodland covering more than 1,000 dunams, which the national master plan defines as being highly environmentally sensitive.

Moreover, when combined with an expansion plan for Ma’alot that is also now before the district planning and building committee, the result will be a significant decline in the amount of open space remaining in the district, SPNI charges.

Many small towns view a population increase as essential to expanding the tax base and improving public services. But that is not the case for Kfar Vradim, SPNI argues, because the town’s well-off population provides it with a strong tax base that already enables it to offer excellent public services. Moreover, the organization says, there are open areas within the town’s existing urban space that could be used for additional building – while causing far less environmental damage.

Finally, it says, the plan calls for low-density building – only three housing units per dunam – and this contradicts the national master plan, which calls for higher-density building to reduce environmental damage.

Though SPNI presented these arguments to the planning and building committee, the latter rejected them and decided to approve the plan.

“The town’s expansion answers a national need: attracting a well-off population to the periphery,” explained Kfar Vradim Mayor Sivan Yehieli. “That will result in a fairer social distribution than a situation in which the well-off population lives only in the central region. Kfar Vradim is a town suitable for many people who don’t want to move to a small community and prefer a larger one. The combination of [new] residences and employment is right and proper and will improve the economic situation for all residents of the area.”

Yehieli insisted that “building in this area is the lesser evil from the standpoint of environmental harm, and it will be done gradually and in the greenest possible manner.” He also said green groups had missed an opportunity by simply opposing “all development” in the region rather than “being partners in regional planning.”