Tel Aviv Property Owners Angered by Light Rail Expropriation Plan

Neighborhood residents say they weren’t informed of plan to demolish their buildings, but officials maintain it was published.

A light rail site in Tel Aviv, February 2016. Work is proceeding ahead of schedule.
Ofer Vaknin

At least 20 residents and business owners in Tel Aviv’s southern Hatikva neighborhood recently discovered by chance that their premises had been earmarked for expropriation to make way for the Purple Line of the city’s light rail system, which is currently under construction.

One of three lines already approved by the national infrastructure board, the Purple Line will connect Tel Aviv to Yehud. The Hatikva property owners said that they had not been officially notified of the expropriation.

Neta, the company responsible for planning and building the Dan region’s light rail, has designated parts of the Hatikva properties as light rail “organization areas,” starting 2018. Structures between Etzel Street and Shalmon Street, bordering the neighborhood’s main street, Haganah, will be demolished.

According to the law governing the construction of the light rail, an area designated as necessary for a transportation route and not defined as a living area can be temporarily expropriated and the structures on it demolished. The land is to be returned to its owners after completion of the project, but it is unclear who will compensate the owners and how to compensate renters for losing business.

One owner of a parking lot and other property slated for demolition discovered the planned expropriation when he approached an architect about getting a building permit. The architect, Assaf Asherov, searched official documents related to the plot and found the expropriation documents.

“I invested all my money in this place, and I thought of coming to Hatikva to do something Zionist,” said the owner. “They treat the Hatikva neighborhood like a ghetto. Their behavior is totally unacceptabler.”

Asherov said that there is an open parking lot and the skeleton of a movie theater 150 meters away, close to the planned light rail stop and at the entrance of the market. “Perhaps Neta thinks it’s easier to move houses,” he said.

The Cohen family has owned properties in the area for some 30 years. They only found out about the official plans in June, several months after the plan was approved. “They didn’t inform us,” Yosef Cohen told Haaretz. “We discovered it by chance from an expropriation professional who offered us his services.”

Oren Hakim, who has rented a space for his cellular device store for a decade, discovered the expropriation plan a few days ago. He fears for the fate of his business.

“We don’t know this strange beast called temporary expropriation, but it exists for the light rail,” said attorney Ofer Toister, a building and planning expert. “It theoretically allows expropriation for 10 years.” He thinks the fact that some of the buildings were built illegally built makes it easier for Neta to implement the expropriation.

“Neta’s problem is it looks only at one side and the desire to advance the project,” said Toister. He noted the light rail plan for Arlosoroff Street was altered in favor of property owners, but “no one opened their eyes in Hatikva neighborhood.” He added: “So Neta told itself they’ll probably have to pay some tens of millions of shekels in damages for expropriation, and a project of billions can afford these sums.”

The national infrastructure board, which approved the plan, commented: “The plan was published for public comments and criticism according to law, marking the structures designated for demolition. Before expropriating and demolishing it will contact property owners and damages will be given according to law.”

It added that the line will run through Haganah Street, the widest road in the neighborhood. “Passing through another street would have required more extensive expropriations,” it added.

Neta commented: “The Purple Line route was planned according to the National Outline plan. It was brought to public knowledge in preparatory meetings for local residents held before publishing the plan as per law.” The company added it would do all it could to allay fears, “but in the same breath we will work full speed to introduce a new era in transportation for Dan Region residents.”