Court Saves Eucalyptus Trees From City Bulldozers

Haifa municipality wanted to turn ancient grove into parking lot to support area nightlife.

In a ruling that constitutes a significant precedent for the preservation of trees in urban areas, the Haifa District Court last week rejected an appeal from the municipality, which sought permission to cut down a grove of eucalyptus trees to make space for a parking lot.

In explaining his ruling, Judge Ron Shapiro said he decided to prevent the move because local residents' welfare requires preserving the grove as a "green lung."

In filing its request to cut down the trees, the municipality cited an urban bylaw pertaining to so-called "empty lots," by which municipalities may turn areas without urban development plans into parking lots.

Residents of the Kiryat Haim neighborhood sought to prevent the move by arguing that the lot in question is not empty because it contains trees, and teamed up with the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V'Din) in petitioning the Haifa Local Affairs Tribunal to block the city from carrying out its plan. The court agreed with the petitioners, prompting the municipality to appeal to the District Court, which also turned down its request.

The city maintained it needed to cut down the grove and level the ground in order to provide parking solutions for the burgeoning nightlife scene that has recently developed in the area.

Judge Shapiro said that since the site has "an ancient eucalyptus tree grove, it cannot be regarded as an open area," and hence the bylaw cannot be applied in this case.

Moreover, the judge proceeded to criticize the municipality's handling of the matter. "The city's decision to cut down the trees and pave parking space for businesses, some of which are illegal, is unreasonable and not unconnected with the city's own interests," Shapiro wrote in his decision.

He further wrote that the municipality "should have redrafted its development plans for the area in question, while taking into consideration the required quotas for open public areas."

He added that the city should have shut down businesses operating without a permit in the area, put an end to illegal land use in the neighborhood and enforce traffic laws against drivers who park illegally.

"Instead of doing this, it appears the municipality opted to exploit this limited resource in the area in a way that excludes residents from the decision-making process," he concluded.