It Takes a Village

Even Yehuda is on the way to becoming a city, but residents, including the local council head, want it to remain rural.

A storm is raging in Even Yehuda: At least seven municipal building plans, which could add more than 3,000 housing units, are currently on the table and could change the character of the locale from rural to urban. Local council head Amos Azani says he has prepared strategies for narrowing down the building plans, but the inhabitants are worried.

One of the most significant plans, which will come up for discussion in the coming weeks at the Regional Planning and Building Committee, involves the construction of 989 housing units between Dror junction in the east and Rabin Road in the west on about 350 dunams (nearly 90 acres ) of land. This plan is being promoted by private landowners, contrary to the opinion of the Even Yehuda local council.

Even Yehuda Local Council

"After I was elected council head about seven years ago, I was alarmed to see all the building plans, most of which were advanced before my election," relates Azani. "The first thing I did was to stop all the plans. There's a strong desire all around to expand the locale, though the construction plans that are being advanced do not fit the pace of the locale's development in terms of infrastructure, educational institutions, public institutions and access roads. We approved a master plan that limits the population increase to 15,000, but this contradicts the planning trend at the Interior Ministry, such as National Master Plan 35, to increase the [population] density. This is our struggle today."

Even Yehuda is named after Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the reviver of the Hebrew language. To the east, the small town borders on the Kadima local council and Tel Mond, to the north lies the Lev Hasharon regional council, to the west the city of Netanya and to the south the Hof Hasharon regional council. In recent years there has been positive migration into the area, and its population has swelled from 9,500 in 2005 to 12,000 now.

The residents have enjoyed an investment of more than NIS 100 million in improving infrastructure, building and upgrading public institutions, a sports complex, paving of roads, plazas and educational institutions. Three years ago the American International School in Israel relocated to Even Yehuda, attended by children of diplomats and representatives of foreign companies - which has contributed to the town's prestige.

"What is happening now in Even Yehuda is years late, compared with surrounding locales like Tel Mond, Pardesiya and Kadima," explains Roni Gofer of the Nifla real estate agency. "There, the communities have expanded, there has been massive construction and the demand has increased. Even Yehuda is only now enjoying the fruit of the rezoning of land for building 750 apartments in its southern part about five years ago, where construction began about two years ago. Now Even Yehuda is coming back to lead the Sharon."

And indeed, the developers in Even Yehuda are thinking ahead. The price increases chalked up there are spurring them to promote municipal building plans - and the faster, the better.

If up until five years ago a single-family home in Even Yehuda sold for about NIS 1.8, similar properties are now selling for NIS 2.5 to 3 million. In addition to the plan to build about 1,000 apartments, other construction plans are also being promoted, which could double the population in the next decade. A neighborhood comprising about 750 apartments has been under construction for the past two years. In recent years four additional building plans, totaling about 800 apartments, have been approved for the western part of the town and some of them are already under construction. Another plan has been approved under which building permits can now be issued for about 450 apartments in the southern part of Even Yehuda.

The local council is also promoting a plan to build about 800 apartments to complete construction in the heart of the town, between Ha'atzmaut Street and Hamahteret Street. The Israel Lands Administration is also aiming to stick its finger in the pie and is touting a plan for building about 500 housing units in the northern part of Even Yehuda.

Doubling the population of Even Yehuda could change its status from that of a local council to a proper town. Azani, who wants to preserve the rural atmosphere, fears the plans being promoted and is waging a struggle against the planning committees, which want to increase the population density from three or four residents per dunam at present to about seven per dunam.

"We have no intention of expanding our community too much," explains Azani. "We are holding determined discussions at the regional committee, with the aim of maintaining the rural atmosphere. It is our intention to stand up on our hind legs so there will not be dense building here and the population density will not increase. Even today Even Yehuda is no longer a village, but the aim is to preserve the low construction and a suitable spread of buildings."

Gofer, himself an inhabitant of Even Yehuda for 13 years, also thinks a low rather than an urban profile should be maintained. "I'm against any compromise on the lands, even by one millimeter," he says. "I came to live in a rural community and not in a town. Even now it is possible to see the damage to the locale, with the advancement of the plan to build about 800 apartments in the east. This is shocking and most residents of Even Yehuda are disgusted by those horrible buildings, which from a distance look like they are two stories high but really contain two duplex apartments. It's our luck now that these are going up at the edges of the locale and not in its center."