High-rises Sprout in Rural Areas as City Mice Go Country

In Israel, rising home prices, lack of land for new construction in urban areas drive families and developers into areas that were once farmland.

Many would define a city by its having a street grid, a large variety of neighborhoods, high-rises, noise, nightlife and a constant din of traffic. In contrast, rural communities are known for houses with yards, run-down paths, trees and grass all around, and quiet.

Yet it appears that for more and more communities in the Gush Dan region, this division is becoming irrelevant. A rapidly diminishing supply of land for development in the cities, along with infrastructure improvements that have brought Israel's periphery closer to the center, have pushed the area of high-demand real estate to the edge of Gush Dan and beyond, from Hadera in the north to Ashkelon in the south.

They have also prompted the planning authorities to approve an increasing number of higher-density projects that are significantly expanding the size of towns that only recently were considered rural. The result is neighborhoods with 10- and 15-story buildings located adjacent to these otherwise rural areas, doubling and tripling the number of residents.

These new neighborhoods provide a housing solution for young urban families who have been driven out of the cities where they work and once lived because of skyrocketing housing prices. The result is a new type of town that is neither a village nor a city, but localities that are hybrids of the two. Some communities that clearly fit this pattern are Be'er Ya'akov, Kfar Yona, Kadima, Tzoran and Pardes Hannah-Karkur. To a lesser extent Shoham and Zichron Yaakov also match this profile, maintaining their upscale village atmosphere while recently approving higher density projects.

There's no sign that the proliferation of these new projects will come to an end. At the same time, some towns have already completed the transition from rural to urban and keep on building, including Hod Hasharon, Ramat Hasharon, Nes Tziona and Givat Shmuel.

High-rises 
replace cottages

North of Kfar Yona, a town considered rural until a few years ago, massive construction activity is running apace in a new neighborhood. Some 1,250 new apartments will be built in buildings each 14 stories tall. According to Ahi Timor, business development manager for Izaki Group Investments, which is building a 450-unit development in the area, a substantial portion of buyers are young couples, many of them coming from cities in the southern Sharon region nearby. They are moving to Kfar Yona “against their will,” but prices are so much lower than where they are coming from that they have no choice if they want more space and amenities, says Timor. The average price of a three-bedroom apartment in the Izaki project is NIS 1.25 million, with four bedrooms averaging somewhere between NIS 1.35-1.4 million.

Timor says the mix of housing density in Kfar Yona offers great advantages not provided by either the big city or a small town.

“Overall, people are very happy with the mix of urban and rural,” he says. “People are looking for urbanism in the sense of being close to major traffic arteries with a supermarket and health clinic nearby, and being able to get a cup of coffee somewhere in the area, without getting into the car for every little thing. At the same time, to be able to go outside with the kids and the dog and run around in the orchards is the dream of every parent – and in the case of Kfar Yona there is nothing but orchards up to Hadera.”

Change in plans

The land on which the Izaki project is being developed belonged to the Izaki family for generations. The original plan, Timor says, was to build cottages that would preserve the town's rural nature, but in the end the district planning committee approved the construction of higher density housing.

Despite the benefits of the new trend, the picture is not all rosy. In many cases, the wide gaps between the character of the new and old buildings and the new and old residents lead to tension. “The advantages provided by the growth in the number of residents and infrastructure development can be a wonderful opportunity for a community, but is likely to upset and damage the existing communal tapestry,” says Gil Shenhav, the architect who planned the new neighborhood in Kfar Yona. “So it's important that the planning of the new neighborhood create integration, compatibility and harmony with the existing community.”

Shenhav suggests that the first way to ensure such harmony is to renovate existing infrastructure in the heart of the town while developing the new neighborhood. He says that the new neighborhood should be planned so that it relies on the existing social and commercial framework of the town it is in, rather than strive for independence.

The town center is the backbone of any community, so it should be reinforced in a way that links neighborhoods. Shenhav warns against concentrating all social and public functions in a newly built neighborhood, saying it leads to a community detached and with little influence on the rest of the town.

Others disagree with Shenhav's approach, including Uri Fleischmann, vice president of marketing at Rothstein, a developer building 900 apartments in Kfar Yona's new neighborhood.

"The old town does not have much infrastructure, so if there already is new construction on this scale, it's only logical to establish public buildings and commercial centers at the same time,” he says.

However, in places unlike Kfar Yona, where the veteran population is better-off than the newcomers, the situation is reversed. The old-timers turn up their noses at the newcomers, seeing their high-rise buildings as something that could damage their rural tranquility.

Sometimes veteran residents of rural communities are so displeased by the addition of new neighborhoods that they go to court seeking to block planning committee decisions. When this fails, some have filed lawsuits claiming damages for losses to the value of their homes from the development of the area.

Nevertheless, experience shows that the odds of blocking building projects or winning compensation is low. “The accepted view today among the planning committees is that a person does not have an inalienable right that the character of his community remain as it was,” says attorney Tzvi Shoob.

No compensation

The courts only rarely award damages for loss in the value of a home due to development. The last time compensation was awarded to veteran residents, according to Shoob’s recollection, was several years ago in Hod Hasharon. “The accepted view is that community development is inevitable, so there is no reason to offer compensation,” he says. “Only if the development is something outside the ordinary can anyone expect compensation.”

The attitudes of old-time residents toward the new neighborhood being built in their communities was one of the reasons real estate developer Amram Avraham Ltd. decided to build in the center of Pardes Hannah, says Eran Barak, its vice president of marketing. The project, called Mandarin, will feature low-density housing rather than the high-rises in the nearby neighborhood of Neveh Pardesim. This, Barak says, will enable the company to offer buyers a village atmosphere in the heart of the old town.

But it comes at a price. Most of the apartments are priced around NIS 1.25 million to NIS 1.3 million for three bedrooms, which is significantly higher than in the newer neighborhood. According to Alon Ascher, the Re/Max Israel realty concessionaire in Pardes Hannah, in Neveh Pardesim a new three-bedroom apartment can be found starting at NIS 960,000, while previously owned units of the same size begin at NIS 850,000.

Tzahi Vazana