New Zoning Plan Hopes to Bring '24/7 Activity' to Central Israeli Cities

In the plan to approve apartment construction in industrial zones in the central district, some 20 percent of living space would be allocated as affordable housing

Adi Cohen
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The construction of office towers in Tel Aviv
The construction of office towers in Tel AvivCredit: Eyal Toueg
Adi Cohen

Central Israel may start seeing more small apartments in areas zoned for office space, following a decision by the central district planning committee to enable industrial zones to start allocating some space for housing.

This decision was made last week, as part of changes to district zoning policy.

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Planners have already decided to incorporate small apartments into the Herzliya Pituach industrial zone and the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange.

The planning committee ruled that only local authorities or government ministries, not developers, are entitled to petition to add housing within industrial zones.

There are also specific conditions for approval: The industrial zones need to be adjacent to other urban areas, and the request needs to be accompanied by a report detailing the impact of building apartments at the site, to ensure that the quality of life there would be preserved.

Apartment buildings under construction in Netanya (archives).Credit: Ofer Vaknin

This applies only to industrial zones within cities and not regional councils. In places where apartment construction is approved, some 20 percent of living space would be allocated as affordable housing.

Such zoning changes would enable increasing the amount of housing space within cities, partly at the expense of industry and office space.

The current plan does not set ratios for the amount of commercial space versus housing within an industrial zone, nor does it mandate the size or nature of the homes that would be built there.

The planning authority says the change is designed to encourage construction of mixed-use neighborhoods with activity around the clock, contrary to how things were done for years and to many existing zoning plans. This is coupled with the shrinking need for office space, due to both the excess in planned office space, particularly in central Israel, and the coronavirus pandemic, which accelerated the trend of working from home.

In explaining the decision, the planning authority noted that Israel would need to plan and build another 640,000 housing units by 2040 just in central Israel.

“Our idea is to create more urban areas with activity 24/7,” stated Guy Kaplan, the planning authority’s central district planner. “The concept of mixed use has been gaining traction over the past few years, while the regional zoning plan approved in 2003 did not recognize this need,” he noted. “The revised plan is important in terms of planning for the present and future that we want. But it’s also important to preserve commercial space, meaning that incorporating living space needs to be balanced, and can be done only where housing and commercial space don’t impact each other.”

Regarding the option of converting office space into commercial space, Kaplan noted that while this is not a broad trend at this point, it’s a declaration of direction by the market.

The committee’s decision is a reflection of a need that has already arisen, as reflected by decisions in several municipalities. In Rehovot, for instance, the municipality is advancing a massive development plan for the Hurvitz industrial zone, where nearly half of all space – 45 percent – would be devoted to residences.

“Currently there’s the city center, which is primarily residential, and then there’s industrial zones, which are generally on the outskirts, and then open areas, which are the metropolis’ recreational areas. This leads to the city center being empty during the day, and the industrial areas going unused at night,” states architect Dalit Harel, Rehovot’s municipal engineer.

“Now the idea is to avoid creating bedroom communities and to create a lively urbanity with coexisting mixed uses,” she stated. Given the glut of office space in central Israel, “no one will build more office space if they don’t have an incentive. For developers, the incentive will be residential space.” It’s a win-win – housing is more profitable for developers, while mixed-use areas are beneficial for the city, she says.

A similar plan is being advanced in the Israel Aerospace Industries complex in eastern Kfar Sava. Mayor Rafi Sa’ar says the decision to incorporate homes into the planned industrial zone is not due to an excess of commercial property in the Sharon region, but rather because it offers a chance to create housing for a more varied population.

The industrial zone will contain retail space and entertainment, as well as apartments of up to 50 meters each, which would create inexpensive housing for young couples, the elderly, students or singles “who don’t need a preschool or schools next to their home. It’s hard to find this size home in other parts of the city,” he explained.

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