Proposed Changes to Zoning Plan Pit City Trees Against Urban Renewal

Edits to construction master plan would allow for expansion of buildings below ground, threatening the root systems of city trees.

Moti Milrod

Proposed changes in the national master plan for making older apartment buildings earthquake-resistant will cause serious and extensive damage to trees in cities, the Israeli Association of Landscape Architects says.

The changes would provide incentives to tearing down older apartment buildings and replacing them entirely, rather than reinforcing them and adding additional stories, by allowing the buildings to be expanded at the same time. But the association says such expansion will damage the root systems of nearby trees, endangering their survival. The association’s newsletter called the new proposal “one of the main enemies of trees in the city.”

The National Planning and Building Council is discussing the proposed changes, which were recently posted for public comment.

The council previously approved changes to the plan, known as National Master Plan 38, that would allow developers to combine earthquake-proofing with urban renewal by razing existing buildings and replacing them with earthquake-resistant ones.

The new proposal would allow builders to enlarge the buildings not only upward and outward, but also downward, by adding basements or underground parking lots. In some cases, this would require cutting down trees near the building. In other cases, it would damage trees in adjacent lots whose roots had grown underneath the buildings, as these roots would have to be lopped off to make room for the underground development.

The proposal states that some land in every lot would have to remain unbuilt, so in theory, trees could be planted there. But the Association of Landscape Architects claims the land slated to be left empty is insufficient for trees to grow in.

“There’s no possibility of adult trees of any significant size existing in this area over time,” it said in an objection it filed to the proposal. As a result, these lots will have to make do with shrubs or dwarf trees, which “are of no value in terms of their contribution to the quality of urban life.”

Trees, the objection continued, not only provide shade, but also improve air quality and lower urban temperatures.

The association claims the master plan is already causing serious damage to trees, but said the proposed changes will worsen it. As an example of the damage the plan is already causing, it cited an urban renewal project conducted under this plan in Ramat Gan. Vegetation covered 43 percent of the lot in question prior to the project, but only 2 percent afterward, it said.