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The citizens of Kiryat Yam have ratcheted an urban victory, after the district planning committee of the Haifa District approved the construction of four additional floors in seven buildings in the city's Gimmel neighborhood.

For years the government-sponsored project in the old neighborhood was delayed because of opposition by Rafael, whose arms manufacturing plant is located nearby. The firm argued - and continues to claim - that constructing high-rises would be contrary to the safety regulations at the plant, which may endanger civilians living close by.

However, another attempt at blocking the project was made when Rafael argued that the high-rises would risk the security of the plant because it would expose the goings on inside the plant to outsiders.

The aim of the government-sponsored construction project was to speed up the renewal of the city in sparsely populated neighborhoods, or in areas of low socio-economic means. The idea is to raze the old structures and to build in their stead more apartments, with better infrastructure.

The Gimmel neighborhood was built in the 1950s, and now most of the families living there are relatively poor, with high rates of unemployment, alcoholism and drug addiction. The construction in the area is of low quality, with narrow alleys, low-rises, and poor drainage infrastructure. The plan to revamp the neighborhood and attract communities with higher socio-economic means has been blocked for years by Rafael.

The plan was the work of local authorities, residents and the neighborhood reconstruction unit at the Ministry of Housing, and includes plans for the construction of 124 apartments in seven buildings. Each of the buildings already has four stories, and now will add four more.

As part of the project, the contractor will renovate existing buildings, both on the exterior and by bolstering the foundations against earthquakes, and add elevators and other improvements. At a later stage the contractor will be entitled to sell the apartments he built.

"The program is significant in two ways: in terms of security and in terms of quality of life for the residents," Kiryat Yam Mayor Shmuel Siso explained. "The time has come for the old neighborhoods to undergo a necessary face lift."