The housing cabinet on Monday declared an important nature site in western Jerusalem as a priority area for the construction of new housing, over the objections of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat but with support from the environmental protection minister.
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Construction plans for Mitzpeh Naftoah and the other sites approved as priority areas on Monday will now be sent to a special planning committee that deals with government-approved priority sites on an accelerated timetable. This committee has the power to override most provisions of approved master plans, and it's virtually impossible to appeal its decisions.
Drafted by the Israel Lands Authority, the plan for Mitzpeh Naftoah calls for the construction of some 1,400 apartments.
Environmental groups object vociferously to construction in Mitzpeh Naftoah, as well as to the fast-track process used to approve it. They were particularly disappointed that the housing cabinet’s decision was backed by Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Kulanu.)
Gabbay’s office declined to comment on his vote.
Prior to the housing cabinet’s meeting, Barkat asked its chairman, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, to take the Mitzpeh Naftoah plan off the agenda.
“I oppose this move,” Barkat wrote, saying it failed to strike the necessary balance between preserving green areas and other public needs.
Moreover, by declaring Mitzpeh Naftoah a priority area, the housing cabinet was “circumventing the local [planning] committee, which faithfully represents the interests of Jerusalem residents, and also the regional [planning] committee,” he continued.
More new housing has already been approved for Jerusalem than for any other city in Israel, Barkat argued, so “it’s not clear to me why the Israel Lands Authority chose to thumb its nose so crudely at the municipality’s policy.”
Mitzpeh Naftoah also has the largest concentration of gazelles in the Jerusalem hills.
The site is the only green lung for the Ramot neighborhood’s 50,000 residents, who charge that the ILA plan will destroy the landscape. Ramot residents led the battle against construction in the area, but their alternative plan, which called for making Mitzpeh Naftoah a community park, now has no chance of being accepted.