Ruth and Zvi Hershko, now in their 80s, owned a 1,170-square-meter plot of land in Kiryat Ata that was rezoned in 1990 from residential to public use. The law discusses two stages of compensation in such cases: compensation for planning impairment, meaning the loss of value due to the zoning change, and compensation for expropriation, when possession of the property is transferred.

After the Hershkos made a claim for planning impairment under paragraph 197 of the Planning and Building Law, they received NIS 650,000 in compensation plus interest and cost-of-living linkage. The locality has registered the land under its name, but it still hasn't taken possession, let alone started building on it. So it hasn't completed the expropriation process and the couple hasn't received compensation for relinquishing ownership.

The couple sought a court order that would make the local authority complete the expropriation process and pay compensation. In a unique decision, the Haifa District Court, sitting as a court for administrative affairs, attached particular importance to their ages.

"The petitioners are in their eighth decade, and the possibility they can ... sell the land to developers, as suggested by the respondents, sounds like worthless nonsense. The designation for the land under the master plan puts limits on how it can be used and ... on the possibility of realizing [selling] the rights to it," said Judge Alex Kesary.

"The fact that the decisive appraiser attributed a certain value to the land doesn't constitute evidence that such value could be realized within a reasonable time frame. And considering the petitioners' ages, the possibility of its realization within a reasonable time frame is something that needs to be considered, especially since the respondents aren't proposing any timetable .... As a rule, the administrative authority has the duty to act with appropriate speed, and this duty also covers the activities of planning institutions."

The court ruled that the committee must complete the expropriation process and pay the petitioners compensation. The court noted that requiring the respondents to compensate the petitioners is nothing more than moving up the date when they would have had to pay in any case, as required when land is redesignated for public use.

The writer is an attorney, real estate appraiser and municipal planner.