Ashdod.
The Ashdod coast. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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High-rise apartment buildings have become more common in recent years in many Israeli cities, often with the support of local governments. But in a recent decision, the Southern District Planning and Building Committee ruled that residential towers are not right for every town or neighborhood.

Abu Yehiel Building Company planned to build a residential and hotel complex including two 44-story towers containing hundreds of apartment for housing and hotels in Yovel Square, located in Ashdod’s Neighborhood 15. After the Ashdod Building and Planning Committee approved the development a nonprofit group, the Public Forum for the Environment in Ashdod, submitted objections to the plan.

The district committee decided to veto the project after hearing the objections two and a half weeks ago. In its decision, the committee noted that the neighborhood was characterized by low-rise buildings, including two-story private homes and 3-story apartment buildings, as well as 12-story apartment buildings near the square.

Out of character

The committee noted that the plan allowed “exceptional building rights compared to the complex it is located in, and is not appropriate for the surroundings. These rights are a specific significant change to the character of the neighborhood without the matter having been examined in the entirety of the area.”

In addition, the project did not comply with Ashdod’s master plan for Ashdod, which calls for increasing population density in the city’s older neighborhoods but does not allow for exceptionally dense construction in relatively new neighborhoods such as Neighborhood 5.

A proposal for a different high-rise project near the one whose approval was lifted is expected to be rejected also.

The Public Forum for the Environment in Ashdod said the planned towers would have ruined the view and the skyline, casting problematic shade over neighboring buildings and blocking the breeze. In addition, such a complex requires complementary planning for nearby sites for entertainment and recreation, as well as restaurants, shopping centers and public buildings. All these are naturally located in the center of the city, and not in this neighborhood in the southern part of town.

Meant for foreigners
and rich Israelis

The apartments were meant to be sold mostly to foreign residents, and therefore do not serve a real need for more housing in Ashdod, the environmental organization argued in its objections. One potential target group of buyers for the marketing the apartments is French Jews. The purchase by foreign residents of homes in Ashdod, especially those located close to the Mediterranean Sea, has already helped push up housing prices significantly in those areas.

Plans to build towers have drawn fire in other Israeli cities, including Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In most cases residents and environmental organizations complain that towers of 30 and 40 stories are inappropriate for residential neighborhoods with low-rise buildings and destroy the scenery and skyline, especially in the case of the towers planned for the top of Mount Carmel in Haifa. Also, the apartments in such towers are usually meant for the wealthiest buyers only, since the purchase and maintenance costs are beyond the reach of most Israelis.