Government committee approved plan to expand Habonim nature reserve, preserving natural resources and landscape.

Nixing plans to build a resort village and other tourism infrastructure on Nahsholim and Habonim beaches, a government committee has approved a plan that expands and preserves a nature reserve at Habonim.

The Subcommittee for Objections under the authority of the Interior Ministry’s Haifa regional branch on Tuesday night approved a revised plan for Habonim Beach only, initiated by the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council and the Government Tourism Corporation.

Covering 76.3 hectares (187 acres), the plot to be rehabilitated under the new plan is located west of Moshav Habonim, running from the beach to the Habonim Nature Reserve. The goal is to preserve the natural resources and sensitive landscaping of the site, while providing essential beach and bathing-related services, the Interior Ministry said.

In addition to expanding the nature reserve eastward, the plan includes the creation of a center for overnight campers and limited development that will be integrated into the existing environment. The idea is that all materials used and structures built will be adapted to the marine coastal environment, the ministry explained.

In light of the huge number of objections that surfaced and the complex issues involved with the project, the committee appointed a researcher to work with the plan, architect Michal Halevy. An investigative report that followed recommended accepting several of the objections, particularly regarding beach service centers and overnight stays, reducing the width of the promenade, canceling the plan to place a cafe in the north, and preserving nature as much as possible, the ministry said.

The Objections Subcommittee accepted and integrated most of the recommendations and from there decided to approve the new plan.

Environmental activists considered the approval of this program a victory, and attributed it largely to citizen efforts to protest the original plan.

The struggle against the original plan to create what environmentalists described as a “resort island” began in September 2011, according to a statement from a consortium of groups: Green Course, Blue and Green Non-Profit Organization for Environmental Protection of Hof Hacarmel and the Israeli Forum for the Preservation of Beaches. The original plan, the groups said, involved building about 500 resort units on Nahsholim beach and regulated camping areas, a boardwalk, a restaurant, parking and a changing room on Habonim.

Soon, thousands came out in protest against the projects, which were to spread over 20 hectares, and over the course of the summer, 2,700 official objections were submitted.

In the committee’s final decision Tuesday night to accept most of the recommendations of the researcher, its members stressed that there already exist many plans for hotel accommodation units along the Carmel coast that have not yet been realized, according to the green group statement.

“The program for a resort village at Nahsholim was megalomaniac,” said Gideon Bezalel, chairman of Blue and Green, adding that the plan would not have benefited nature or residents in any way.

“The plan was to build on a sensitive area, rich in natural resources,” he said.

After Tuesday’s decision, it is crucial that residents of the Hof Hacarmel region take up the challenge, and see how they can leverage the new plan to help restore the ecosystem along the coast, Bezalel added.

Yarden Shani-Rockman, coordinator of the Israeli Forum for the Preservation of Beaches, stressed that the fight for the nation’s beaches is not over, citing examples of planned hotel additions at Neveh Yam, Dor Beach and the Acadia site in Herzliya.

Such initiatives “threaten one of the most beautiful beach strips in Israel,” Shani-Rockman said.

Roni Keren, activity coordinator for public beaches at Green Course, praised the local residents and activists for their efforts.

“We are pleased that the activities of public citizens and environmental organizations have successfully managed to send a message to institutions and the government saying that the sea is a public area and that you cannot privatize it for profit,” Keren said.

MK Dov Henin (Hadash) likewise praised the effort, but warned that the beaches need the protection of broad legislation.

“The time has come to understand that instead of fighting for each beach separately, we need an updated and balanced Coasts Law that will ensure the protection of Israeli beaches from real estate initiatives and their relationships with the authorities,” Henin said.