Failing to Lure American Jews, Locals Flock to Israel's ‘Beverly Hills’

Hadar Horesh
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The planned community of Gva’ot Eden, December 26, 2019
The planned community of Gva’ot Eden, December 26, 2019 Credit: 3Dvision
Hadar Horesh

The new community being advertised as the “Israeli Beverly Hills” has drawn considerable demand, but it may not wind up being a community of Israeli Americans as originally envisioned by its developer.

Some half a billion shekels in land for single-family homes and duplexes has been sold in Gva’ot Eden, a planned community in the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council. The sales happened without significant advertising or attention.

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Demand for this future town has broken local records, given its relatively remote location.

Some 200 homes have been sold there, but only 20 of the buyers are new immigrants, stated Dror Ohev Zion, head of the PR firm Dara Marketing. Most of the buyers are Israeli families upgrading to larger homes.

The decision to approve the town in the center of a nature reserve was a contentious one. American-Israeli developer Jack Leibowitz, the main proponent of the idea, justified the establishment of the community as the only way to attract wealthy American Jews to Israel.

The community is slated to go up next to the community of Neve Michael. In May 2020, the developers started marketing 270 housing units there.

The land was sold without any marketing, and to date some 170 homes have been sold there. Prices range from 2.5 million shekels ($760,000) for a 160-square-meter duplex on a 200-square-meter lot, to 3.5 million shekels for a 210-square-meter single-family home on a 500-square-meter lot. The average price is 2.68 million shekels, said Ohev Zion.

A year ago, appraiser David Tigerman stated that one-dunam plots in the future community were worth only 1.22 million shekels apiece, or 1,220 shekels per square meter. Tigerman made his assessment to settle a conflict between developer Leibowitz and the Mateh Yehuda local council regarding betterment taxes that Leibowitz owed for his sale of half of the project to contractor Zvi Fuchs.

Alongside the developer, the Israel Land Authority has also published tenders for some 40 plots zoned for single-family homes. The plots are unusually large, at 1,000 square meters each, and are zoned for 600 square meters of construction. Most state tenders in previous years were for smaller plots of up to half a dunam, and came with building rights of up to 250 square meters.

The unusual terms of the Gva’ot Eden tender were designed to limit density in the area due to its ecological sensitivity. The Israel Land Authority set a minimum land price of 1.23 million shekels per plot, after value-added tax.

Most bids were for between 2.6 million to 4.3 million shekels; one bid was for 23.65 million shekels, and the ILA believes that one was likely submitted in error.

Total building costs for the 40 plots sold by the ILA are forecast to equal 7-10 million shekels.

Leibowitz, an American developer who immigrated to Israel, envisioned in the late 1980s a community that would draw wealthy American immigrants. He received backing from Ariel Sharon, then a government minister. The government’s 1998 decision to approve it was contentious, and drew harsh criticism from the state comptroller.

Environmental activists and planning bodies objected to the idea of founding a new town in the middle of a nature reserve, particularly given that the government’s policy stated that there was no need for new communities, and certainly not there. While building permits have been issued for the homes, an access road has not yet been approved.

Leibowitz submitted the only bid in the Israel Land Authority tender to build the community. As part of the bid, he was told not to pay in cash but to give the authority, then called the Israel Land Administration, 105 of the plots ready for construction, including infrastructure.

In approving the development, the government termed Gva’ot Eden an “ecological community,” apparently in a bid to cover up its environmental impact.

Leibowitz marketed the community as a “Beverly Hills” that would enable wealthy Americans to live in a community such as that Los Angeles enclave or the Hamptons.

The town is districted for 300 households, and a minimum of public buildings. It’s a 20-minute drive from Beit Shemesh, 40 minutes from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

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