Mammoth Housing Project North of Tel Aviv Sparks Fears for Rare Wildlife

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The IMI complex site at Ramat Hasharon where a huge housing construction project has been planned.
The IMI complex site at Ramat Hasharon where a huge housing construction project has been planned.Credit: Dr. Ron Frumkin

A joint commission for planning and construction in the Central and Tel Aviv Districts has approved a plan to build tens of thousands of homes east of Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hasharon suburb.

The area is currently the site of Israel Military Industries plants, which are moving to the Negev over the next few years. The plan for a suburb called Kidmat Sharon would also seriously undermine one of the most important green areas in the center of the country.

The plan was initiated by the Israel Lands Authority with the aim of increasing the supply of apartments in the central region. The revenue the state is to receive from marketing the land to contractors is meant to finance the purification of the soil and groundwater polluted over the years by the IMI factories.

The cities near the IMI compound – Herzliya, Hod Hasharon and Ramat Hasharon –have petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court against the plan. During a hearing on the petition, submitted with the assistance of environmental groups, a decision was made to come up with an alternative version called the “shadow plan.”

The joint committee has approved the alternative plan with a few adjustments that do not change the scope of construction or the amount of open space to be preserved. The approved plan will be presented to the court, and if no legal problems arise, more detailed planning is expected to begin.

The IMI plants being moved to the south occupy an area of 7,500 dunams (1,800 acres). The plan calls for the construction of 36,000 apartments and nearly 1.5 million square meters of commercial space. The apartments will be annexed to the adjacent cities. Construction of this scope is the equivalent of building a whole new city.

The planners write that transportation to and from the area will be based on mass transit, including a light rail line and a road lane for public transportation. They anticipate a situation in which 40 percent of commuting will be by private vehicles, 35 percent by public transportation, and the rest on foot or bicycle. By comparison, in 2017 in metropolitan Tel Aviv, 62.3 percent of commutes were by car, 11.4 percent by public transportation and 26.4 percent on foot or bike.

There is also some agricultural land in the IMI compound, which will continue to be cultivated, but may be rezoned for homes in the distant future.

Ecological surveys show that the IMI compound has open areas of loam soil typical of the Sharon and coastal regions. Such land, characterized by its shrubbery, has been gradually disappearing and may be at greater risk of doing so because of the development.

The area is richly and uniquely biodiverse, and home to 380 species of wild plants, 18 of which are at risk of extinction. More than 100 animal species have been found there, some of which are also endangered, such as the Eurasian hobby, a species of falcon, and Schreiber’s fringe-fingered lizard.

The area is also home to the country’s largest concentration of yellow lupines. During the flowering season you can see carpets of them.

Under the plan half of the compound will be preserved as open areas. “We’re talking about parks, among other things, with large areas – hundreds of dunams – in which it’s possible to preserve clusters of trees and shrublands,” said Uri Mazor from the architectural firm of Mazor-First Architects and City Planners, which prepared the plan for the Lands Authority. Some of the open areas will become parks while others will not be developed at all.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel were not categorically opposed to construction at the site, but had demanded the preservation of more open areas and that the contiguity of protected areas be maintained. Both groups were involved in the struggle against the plan’s original version, and claim the shadow plan still doesn’t preserve nature well enough.

“Areas with high ecological value are not protected or are designed in a way that leaves them divided and fragmented,” Moshe Perlmutter of the SPNI said at the committee hearing last week. Perlmutter presented an alternative plan that proposes larger, more continuous blocs of open space in which most of the compound’s important natural features could be preserved.

The mayors of the three adjacent cities object to the plan, saying that the thousands of planned apartments can be achieved through urban renewal, such as plans already in motion and some that are being drawn up, as well as by making use of open space inside their cities.

They expressed concern that the planned construction will cause serious traffic issues and drainage problems for nearby cities. The mayors would prefer to see the entire area being evacuated by IMI to be used for a park. Hod Hasharon Mayor Amir Kochavi and Ramat Hasharon Mayor Avi Gruber presented this position at the hearing held last week.

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