Over the past few years, environmental groups have tried, unsuccessfully, to change the building plans for the land the Israel Military Industries is supposed to clear next to Ramat Hasharon, just north of Tel Aviv.
This is one of the largest real estate projects in the center of the country, and it looked as if it were impossible to stop the original plan to build on most of the area and leave only a few disconnected spots of open land. But in the past year, there are signs that the planners may be shifting towards a more environmentally friendly approach.
The land, about 7,000 dunams (1,750 acres), is located between the cities of Ramat Hasharon, Hod Hasharon and Herzliya. The IMI factories are scheduled to leave over the next few years, and the original plan was to build some 20,000 housing units on the site.
Today most of the area is not built up, and has substantial environmental value. It is an important center of the region’s original loam soil landscape, a landscape that is fast disappearing from Israel. A rich range of loam soil vegetation that is in danger of extinction was discovered on the land in a survey conducted by Dr. Ron Frumkin on behalf of the Israel Lands Authority.
The Lands Authority is behind the original plan, saying it allowed the preservation of areas with important natural value. Environmental groups, led by the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, disagreed. They opposed the plan and filed an appeal against its approval with the appeals committee of the national Planning and Building Council. After this appeal was denied, they filed a suit in the administrative court in Tel Aviv.
The court hearing brought the change in approach. At the court’s initiative, the parties began a process of dialogue and it led to a new round of planning: The government began to promote what was supposed to be an alternative to the original plan. The final version of this plan is to be presented in a few months to a joint committee of the planning and building committees of the Tel Aviv and central regions.
While residential construction will continue under the new plan, open spaces will be handled differently, and will include continuous green space and most of the built-up areas will be alongside the urban areas of Ramat Hasharon and Herzliya. But there is still a need to significantly increase the areas to be conserved – and make use instead of agricultural land on the site, said the Union for Environmental Defense.
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If these changes are accepted, then the largest green lung in the center of Israel may be cut back in size, but it will still have great ecological importance. It can serve as a hiking area for residents of the neighboring cities and a reserve for rare wild plants. Some environmental groups do not accept this approach either, and are still asking to divert construction to other land in the area before harming this site, which has remained mostly untouched due to the presence of the defense industries there.
The new plan is also making progress on another issue: the treatment of the severe land and groundwater contamination at the site, caused by the IMI factories. The state is conducting a preliminary risk survey of Ramat Hasharon land to locate and map out affected sites. The submission of the survey is one of the conditions for approving any detailed construction plan on the large site.
The situation is quite different for the former military industries facility in the Nof Yam neighborhood in Herzliya, which is also earmarked for residential construction. There, the government has avoided completing the environmental survey and has insisted on pushing the building plan forward. The district court has ruled that no construction plan can be approved until the risk survey is completed. A year ago, the Supreme Court accepted the state’s appeal of this decision, but that was followed by another recent development. Justice Neal Hendel accepted a request by environmental groups, the Herzliya municipality and its residents to rehear the issue. This will mark the first time in Israeli legal history that the court will rehear a case with major health and environmental implications.