Comptroller: Cities Helped Developers Violate Zoning Rules

Haifa expanded building rights for developers contrary to plans, approving zoning exceptions and allowing serious building violations Comptroller report finds.

Municipalities go out of their way to help developers and retroactively approve their building violations, contrary to the opinions of professional planning staff, the state comptroller found in its report on local authorities.

Haifa expanded building rights for developers contrary to plans, approved zoning exceptions and allowed serious building violations in ways that endanger residents of the area, Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss stated in the report released on Tuesday, which also criticized Ashdod and Petah Tikva.

Micha Lindenstrauss - Emil Salman
Emil Salman

Most of the comptroller's criticism for Haifa focused on the city's local planning committee, headed by Mayor Yona Yahav. The committee did not stick with the city's master plan and approved plans did not go through the proper statutory processes, wrote the comptroller.

For example, the committee expanded the building rights of a Kikar Sefer residential project by 2.5 dunams, and let the contractor build a 22-story tower there, the report states. Buildings on plots of that size in the area should be no more than six stories, and district planning authorities cap residential towers at 14 floors, the report notes.

The report also harshly criticized the city's decision to retroactively approve illegal construction in the Haifa Bay area where dangerous materials were being handled.

Regarding Ashdod, the report focused its criticism on the planning of the city's southern business district. The city's local planning committee, headed by mayor Yehiel Lasri, expanded developers' building rights while ignoring the city's master plans, states the report.

For instance, while the master plans allow for building 750 housing units in the area, the committee approved building rights for 1,674 units in 2009 and then 2,372 units in 2010. Regarding one specific 10-dunam plot zoned for 36 housing units, the committee eventually approved 162 units.

The report found that the committee had decided to expand rights in that district as part of agreements it had struck with landowners in order to minimize building along the beach. Yet over the years, the committee had increased the value of its compensation offers without consulting an assessor, the report found.

Petah Tikva was criticized for other shortcomings: The city was not tracking or supervising its assets, and in some cases it was even letting them be used inappropriately, the report stated.

It harshly criticized mayor Yitzhak Ohayon for letting various entities use city property without informing the municipal assets department.