Opposition Mounting to Jerusalem Housing Project on Eve of Decision

At issue is 100 acres of open space, home to large gazelle population and ancient wine presses; even municipality opposes construction in area.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Gazelles in Jerusalem's 'Gazelle Valley' Park.
Gazelles in Jerusalem's 'Gazelle Valley' Park.Credit: Dorom Nissim
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

A battle over Jerusalem open space between developers on the one hand and residents, environmentalists, archaeologists and the municipality on the other is expected to be decided on Wednesday. The state's Committee for Preferred Housing Sites will take up the matter of the 100-acre site in Mitzpeh Naftoah, near the Ramot neighborhood, where 1,435 housing units have been planned.

The committee, whose decision cannot be appealed and is considered final, has in its possession a staff recommendation for approval of the project. Committee staffers view the housing plan as one that strikes a fair balance between the need for housing and the need for nature protection.

However, Ramot residents object to the program, saying there are already other plans for housing construction in the area.

Last week the Jerusalem municipality reiterated its opposition to the building plan, saying new housing should be built in the capital's urban areas, not in its open spaces.

Furthermore, an archaeologist's report a month ago found the area to be one that should remain untouched by bulldozers. Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University called for the preservation of the "Biblical garden" within the site, where he noted that some of the greatest concentrations of ancient wine presses in the Jerusalem hills have been discovered.

"The area must be preserved to the greatest extent possible," Gadot wrote, "because there are important, manmade sites there which are connected to agricultural activity, thus they must not be cut off from their environment, and the landscape surrounding them must be preserved as well."

The staff report had concluded that the plan to build 1,435 units was better than an alternative program to build 3,000 of them. However, environmental planner Dr. Yossi Gamlieli, who was involved in drawing up the staff report, wrote that while the 1,435-unit plan was indeed the best among those offered, he warned that the lights and noise from the construction in this lesser plan were still liable to drive away the gazelles from the adjacent open space, which is home to the largest gazelle population in the area.

The Israel Land Administration also objects to the housing plan, and together with the Ramot residents committee is drawing up a plan to turn Mitzpeh Naftoah into a park. The plan has been submitted to the Jerusalem regional Planning and Building Council, but the council refused to discuss it prior to the decision, due Wednesday, from the Committee for Preferred Building Sites. The ILA contended that the Planning and Building Council's deferral of the decision was illegal, and called on it to debate the plan to build a park in the neighborhood instead of a housing project.

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