Haifa Committee Halts Controversial Beachfront Project

Haifa coastline must be protected as 'public asset, despite today’s economic pressures,’ environmental protection minister says.

One of the most controversial construction projects along Israel coastline, the Carmel Beach Towers, will not be allowed to expand, the Haifa District Planning and Building Committee ruled on Monday.

The committee members made their decision after hearing from experts who warned against plans that include reclaiming land from the sea to build more hotels, in addition to the two towers already standing.

When the first two buildings went up years ago, they sparked harsh public criticism over their impact on the landscape, and because at least one of them was built close to the water line.

According to the plan, which triggered a legal challenge by the Union for Environmental Defense, the developers would be authorized to build four more towers on an area double that of the already built up area. To maintain the legally-mandated 100-meter distance from the water line, they would have had to reclaim land from the sea. But before they could do so, they were required to submit an environmental impact study.

The Environmental Protection Ministry, supported by Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, submitted its opinion in the study, arguing the plans to reclaim land from the sea did not ensure the nearby beaches would remain unharmed.

The developers had proposed reclaiming land from the sea by creating an extended breakwater wall about half a kilometer long opposite the beach. According to the Environmental Protection Ministry expert opinion, the erection of such a wall would ruin the beauty and tranquility of the beach, and “create a bay in which the quality of the water would be uncertain.” The ministry also said the project could harm nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles.

The Interior Ministry stated that in consideration of the expert opinions, the District Planning and Building Committee had decided to reject the construction plan, and called on the Haifa municipality to create a comprehensive program for the city’s southern beaches. Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz called the decision a significant one, “that conveys a clear message that preference must be given to protection of beaches as public assets, despite today’s economic pressures. We must not yield to threats that tourism in Israel will suffer, because [the project] can also exist a few hundred meters from the water.”

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel hailed the decision as “an opportunity to create a comprehensive vision that ensures the creation of open beaches that contribute to the wellbeing of the entire public.”

Hagai Frid