Municipality says plan answers urban renewal need, maintaining Nir Barkat seeking a balance between resident and environmental needs.
Nir Hasson Nov 09, 2016

The Jerusalem municipality has begun advancing a plan to construct 4,000 housing units in a green space in western Jerusalem.

The area, known as White Ridge, expands between the Ir Ganim neighborhood and the Kennedy Memorial. It is considered environmentally sensitive and development there has run into opposition in the past from Mayor Nir Barkat. Barkat recently made a deal with National Housing Board chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki to develop the area, partly to spur urban renewal in adjacent neighborhoods.

White Ridge is one of the areas included the Safdie plan to expand Jerusalem westward. Canceled in 2007 after a long struggle by environmental organizations, Barkat quashed subsequent attempts to revive it. Binat Schwartz, the outgoing planning administration head, enthusiastically backed westward expansion at the expense of green areas, trying to push the plan via the National Planning and Building Board, which could shorten the approval process. Barkat and urban planners vehemently opposed this approach.

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Still, the municipality itself began advancing the White Ridge plan in coordination with the regional planning board and Yitzhaki without turning to the national board. Jerusalem continues to oppose building in the other two designated areas of the Safdie plan – Mitzpe Neftoah near Ramot, which is considered even more environmentally sensitive, and Har Harat, next to Mevasseret Zion.

One of the environmental problems in building on White Ridge is the possible damage to springs flowing at the foot of the ridge, mainly two especially bountiful springs – Ein Lavan and Ein al-Balad. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature demanded in recent days that a comprehensive hydrological and geological survey be conducted to examine whether it will be possible to build without hurting the springs. Some of the planned neighborhood would arise in an area designated until recently for a commercial area, adjacent to Ora Junction.

One of the new plan’s main goals is to allocate land to complete urban renewal plans for the crowded Kiryat Hayovel and Ir Ganim neighborhoods. Planners have tried for 20 years to promote programs to move out residents temporarily while they build new units on the sites of old ones. Netanel Fischer, chairman of the Ir Ganim community administration, said he supports the plan as the land is needed to complete the urban renewal project “because building four times as much will cause more damage than good.”

The municipality commented: “Mayor Barkat’s position remains reducing as much as possible harm to open spaces adjacent to the city, opposing expansion of building in them and advancing as much as possible urban renewal plans within neighborhoods.” The city added Barat is trying to find solutions for young couples while preserving green spaces and stopping the Mitzpe Neftoah plan. It added he continues to oppose national planning board plans for Jerusalem without coordinating with city planners.
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