The Prime Minister’s Office has retroactively asked for a building permit for a large steel structure it has already erected outside the prime minister’s residence in the heart of a historic residential neighborhood in Jerusalem.
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The request from the PMO's security department will be discussed in the next few weeks by a government planning committee within the Finance Ministry which is authorized to expedite building permits.
The structure, which looks like a covered metal tent, was built outside the residence on Balfour Street in Rehavia at the end of May. Three weeks ago, the planning committee published the request for the building permit so the public can file any objections.
Jerusalem's city hall originally said the tent was temporarily put up for the purpose to improving security at the residence during U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel in late May. Local residents, who have had their share of problems with the ever-increasing security measures around the official residence, had feared from the beginning that the tent would become a permanent fixture.
Jerusalem's city engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, gave special approval for building the structure without a permit because it was considered temporary, although this, too, was not allowed and Eshkol had no authority to give such permission.
The structure is six meters (almost 20 feet) high and covers 312 square meters, or over 3,300 square feet, of adjacent Smolenskin Street. It extends from the wall of the prime minister's residence to the fence of the historic Terra Sancta educational complex on the other side of the street, and covers the road and sidewalks on both sides. It rests on the wall and the fence and is also supported by dozens of steel posts anchored into the sidewalks.
The structure's entrance and exit gates are manned by security personnel from the Prime Minister's Office. Because the tent sits at the beginning of the one-way street, residents who live on Smolenskin Street must pass through it to reach their homes.
Haaretz reported on the construction of the structure in May, surprising and angering area residents, who were not informed beforehand. Not only was the construction done illegally, without a building permit, but no such permit could have been issued at the time because no approved plan for the area ever included any such structure. Residents were also not given any opportunity to object, even though this type of construction requires a regular planning process.
Two objections have already been filed with the committee, one by the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel and the other by the residents of one of the buildings on Smolenskin Street.
They are furious not just over the construction of the structure, but also about the conduct of the Prime Minister's Office over the years. “The present structure is another part – it is unclear clear if it is the last – in a process of the illegal takeover of the street and the space surrounding it by the prime minister’s residence, along with all the other elements on the street such as gates, booths, barriers, curtains and various installations that block vehicular and pedestrian traffic, to the point of preventing it completely,” states the objection.
The heritage site council is arguing that the structure harms the architectural and historic value of the historic neighborhood.
The government planning committee said that the permit to build the structure was issued by the city engineer, but added that it was not within his authority to do so. It said it will hold a proper hearing on the matter and will consider the relevant issues, including the objections.
The Prime Minister's Office security department said the request for a building permit was submitted to the city in an orderly process and can be viewed by the public, and noted that the entire process was conducted with the approval of the relevant authorities.
The Jerusalem municipality responded that when the request to construct the tent was received a few months ago, it was examined by the appropriate bodies and approved by the city because it was for a temporary structure that can be dismantled. It added that the PMO was later asked to submit a request for approval by the planning committee. "Further questions on the matter can be addressed to the planning committee in the Finance Ministry," the city said.