Ask 10 random Israelis to describe their dream home, and most will say it’s a house with a yard in a community with good schools that’s an easy commuting to Tel Aviv. This trifecta of Israeli middle-class aspirations sounds a lot like Shoham, a town southeast of Tel Aviv at the junction of Routes 1 and 6.
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It has a small-town, community-oriented feel, while still being big enough to offer most of the services found in bedroom communities — a high school and a middle school, shopping centers and Scouts. If you have the money, you can have it all in Shoham.
Shoham’s popularity, however, is undermining many of the things that have made it so appealing, as single-family homes and duplexes are joined by apartment buildings. There are no soaring high-rises, but even six buildings of six stories — the tallest being built now in Kramim, a new area in the northeastern part of town — are changing the face of Shoham. Of the 670 residential units planned for Kramim, only 38 are single-family houses on lots sold by the Israel Land Authority to people building their own homes.
Even so, buyers are lining up to buy a piece of Shoham. The first homes in Kramim, which Gindi Holdings is building, went on sale in the summer of 2012, initially limited to Shoham residents. Four-room apartments were offered for 1.5 million shekels (around $400,000) but by 2015 the average price had soared by one-third, to 2 million shekels. Nevertheless, all the homes were sold.
A second, 64-apartment project, being built by Avisror Moshe & Sons, is in its second phase. The last, and biggest, project in Kramim has 200 apartments. The developer is Meshulam Levinstein Contracting and Engineering Group. A sales office opened in February, and units being sold at an introductory discount. The asking price for a three-room, 80-square-meter apartment with a 20-square-meter terrace, parking and a storage room is 1.8 million shekels. A four-room, 116-square-meter garden apartment with a 100-square-meter yard and a 50-square-meter basement that can be converted to a separate unit carried a price tag of 2.6 million shekels, while five-room units go for 2.85 million shekels.
“At first, buyers were mainly people from Shoham. Only later did people come from other towns, such as Rishon Letzion, Yehud, Petah Tikva and Lod,” says Omri Avrahami, sales manager of Avisror’s project in Kramim. He says prices in Shoham are beyond the reach of most first-time home buyers, and the market targets people who want something bigger or nicer than their present home.
“Shoham is a status symbol and people coming here from Yehud or Petah Tikva feel they’re significantly upgrading,” Avrahami says, adding, “Very few people can afford to pay 2 million shekels for their first home.”
Kramim is built as a square surrounding a 24-dunam (6-acre) park with playgrounds, fitness equipment and outdoor sculpture. Nearby is a yeshiva as well as a girls’ religious school, for the 20% of the residents who are religious as well as children from religious families in smaller nearby communities. A shopping center is being built at the edge of the new neighborhood.
“Educational standards here are high, there’s a strong sense of community and it’s close to the Airport City business center, which employs many people,” says Sharon Ben Zvi, VP marketing and sales of Levinstein Group, by way of explaining part of Shoham’s attraction.
Running out of land
The plans for Shoham were drawn up long before the ground was broken, in 1993. Members of nearby moshavim sought to create a new rural community for the adult children of farmers in the cooperative settlements. But nothing happened for several years, until Ariel Sharon, who was minister of housing and construction from 1990 to 1992, put a bigger, more ambitious plan into place. The first phase consisted of 300 owner-built homes. But Shoham grew so rapidly that by the end of 2014 the population had reached 20,000 — and that was before people began moving into Kramim.
Some locals call for capping the expansion in order to preserve Shoham’s small-town character. Plans were submitted in a fast-track zoning process in December for an additional neighborhood, twice as big as Kramim. It calls for 1,600 apartments in buildings up to eight stories high plus 200 assisted-living apartments.
The plan has already met up with opposition, including that of the Shoham Local Council, which says the dense construction is incompatible with the community’s character. According to the town engineer, Yaakov Yarkoni, officials have reached an agreement with developers to reduce the plan to 1,200 units in buildings not more than six stories high.
Will the two new neighborhoods turn Shoham into an urban community, or even into a city?
Yarkoni doesn’t think so. “Shoham won’t become a city because it can only accommodate an additional 8,000 residents. These two neighborhoods occupy the last open land within the community’s borders, beyond which are the lands of the moshavim surrounding it, with a military base on the southern side. So I can’t see any construction extending beyond these confines,” he says.
In any case, Yarkoni says, residents would oppose any additional massive projects.
“People want to maintain the small-community character of this place with its high quality of life. When I’m asked what the great advantage of Shoham is I reply that it’s the fact that every resident, regardless of where he lives, is no more than a 10 minutes’ walk from open green fields. This is what constitutes the high quality of life here and people won’t agree to relinquish that,” explains Yarkoni.
An additional concern is the ability of the local transportation infrastructure to handle population growth. Even though Routes 1 and 6 are nearby, there are drive-time bottlenecks at Shoham’s two main entrances.
A new train station at the nearby El Al junction is planned, but it will take at least 10 years before it’s operable. In the meantime, some of Shoham’s commuters are car-pooling in order to use the high-occupancy vehicle fast lane into Tel Aviv.
Yarkoni says a key part of the city’s negotiations with the zoning board revolved around the approval of plans that are contingent on improved transportation in the area, such as by converting the adjacent Route 444 into a dual-lane highway for its entire length. So far no agreement has been reached on this issue.