After years of foot-dragging by the Tel Aviv municipality, the local planning and building committee has hammered out a program to add two and a half stories to apartment buildings throughout the city.
The move comes after years of delays in implementing National Master Plan 38 for reinforcing apartment buildings against earthquakes. The plan will breathe new life into property development and investment in the city.
The plan encourages apartment owners and developers to renovate and reinforce older buildings, with rights to build new apartments above the roofline or in empty space on the ground floor. This would be an incentive to builders in lieu of cash. The program allows for an extra two and a half floors in buildings in Jaffa and the city's east and south.
But the plan allows up to seven and a half new floors in buildings on Ibn Gabirol Street, as well as the demolition of buildings in the White City district not earmarked for preservation. High-rises would be built in their stead. The plan wasn't exactly met with enthusiasm at City Hall, and officials led by Mayor Ron Huldai had misgivings.
Tel Aviv's city engineer Oded Gvuli admits the municipality had qualms about accepting the plan. "When the session began I said loud and clear that we needed to leave there with a final decision, because there had been too much talking," he told TheMarker.
"The government decision on the master plan's third amendment was posted in the official gazette in July 2012. For four months we weighed the plan - a reasonable amount of time I think - and Wednesday evening reached a decision. Both residents and developers are waiting for news and progress, and we had to make difficult decisions even if they contradicted the municipality's ideas and vision. I think we succeeded."
The plan's third amendment is meant to add incentive for implementing the plan. Since its original approval in 2005, the plan has faced many problems, and the amendment increased the extra building rights from one floor to two and a half, while relaxing other conditions.
The champions of the move - including deputy mayor and head of Israel's Green Party, Pe'er Visner - prepared for an all-out battle going into last week's meeting of the local planning and building committee. For two years Visner pushed several programs for reinforcing buildings in the city, but to no avail. City councilor Meital Lehavi also didn't intend to back down, especially considering the many drawbacks she saw in the municipality's original proposal to the committee.
They are both pleased with the approved version. "The committee meeting lasted over four hours and dealt mostly with removing barriers to the city's urban renewal proposal," says Visner.
"But the program included many restrictions and didn't show any promise. Our duty was to simplify the process, and that's what we did. In a long discussion we lifted at least 90% of the restrictions. This represents a breakthrough for urban renewal, good news for developers, and presumably a burst of building reinforcement work, flooding the city with new apartments."
According to Lehavi, "We remarkably changed the professional team's recommendations. It was a very serious battle. After all, this wasn't the committee's meeting on the master plan, so many committee members insisted we do away with the conditions that emptied the national master plan of any meaning. And they were canceled."
Was the municipality really so opposed to the plan? Gvuli told the panel that 190 requests for reinforcing buildings have been approved, mostly in the city center and north. The city engineer told TheMarker that 600 additional requests are in the pipeline. After Wednesday's decision, the municipality is expected to be flooded with many more requests. "I assume thousands of requests will shortly reach the local committee," Gvuli says.
Don't forget the White City plan
But before the committee and city engineer handle requests for building reinforcement, they need to iron out the discrepancies between various plans that have been approved. The main one is for Tel Aviv's White City - the UNESCO World Heritage Site - which was recently sent to the district committee to hear any objections. That plan contradicts the national plan's third amendment and prevents the reinforcement of buildings in the area, canceling out the main incentives provided by the master plan.
"If the plan is sent then it's impossible to issue construction permits that don't comply with it by building higher than six and a half stories," says land appraiser Arie Kamil, a former appraiser for the local committee and manager of the city's assessment department.
"And there is now a master plan for Tel Aviv - Tel Aviv 5000 - that was recommended in March 2012. This plan also contradicts both plans and says buildings in the White City buffer zone will rise no higher than eight stories. We must make clear which plan is being followed so construction in the city won't come to a halt."
According to Gvuli, "The program presented to the local committee didn't include any barriers or restrictions. Each area has its own rules, and that's what the professional team addressed in the original proposal. In most cases they allowed the building of two and a half floors, but with conditions. In the meeting, I stressed the importance of reinforcing buildings without any preconditions. The municipality is being portrayed as having totally objected to the plan for reinforcing buildings - and this isn't true.
"I have been misquoted in the press on this subject. I've always said that any decision needs to be reasonable, and indeed in the past few years we've promoted several projects, in moderation. We're subject to government decisions, regardless of our opinions. We have a role - responsibility toward the residents - and now we'll implement the reinforcement plan even in the sensitive sectors. We'll apply the master plan the best way possible in all parts of the city in cooperation with UNESCO."
Increasing rights on Ibn Gabirol Street and west of Menachem Begin Boulevard to up to seven and a half stories and permission to work in the White City can bring significant changes - though nothing is final yet regarding the latter area.
The municipality plans to appeal to UNESCO to let buildings rise to six and a half or seven and a half stories rather than the five stories now typical.