No McDonalds for Apollonia: Limits Set on Tourist Traps to Be Built in National Park

Committee shoots down plan for 800 square meters of commercial space to be built in Crusader-era park.

Moti Milrod

A national park isn’t the place for a large complex of stores and restaurants; on the contrary, construction there should be limited to preserve the park’s character.

That’s what the National Planning and Building Commission’s appeals committee decided as it significantly restricted such a plan for the Apollonia national park, north of Herzliya Pituah.

The committee was ruling on an appeal that was submitted by Dror Ezra, a Green Party activist in Herzliya, who challenged a permit that was issued six months ago by the Interior Ministry for a plan initiated by the Israel Lands Authority. The plan included nearly 3,000 housing units near the northern beaches of Herzliya, an area that includes the Apollonia national park, which contains the remnants of a Crusader-era city.

The part of the plan relating to the national park called for 800 square meters of commercial space to be built in an area known as Crusader Street.

This construction was to include coffee shops, restaurants, kiosks and souvenir shops. Ezra appealed against several aspects of the ILA’s plan, arguing that there was no justification for building commercial structures within the park when there is similar construction planned for outside it.

The appeals committee noted that some types of construction can be permitted on the park grounds if it dovetails with the park’s purpose. Thus, buildings can be erected to preserve the antiquities or display the artifacts found there. Construction of access paths and bathrooms is also permitted because such structures help the public enjoy the site.

The committee also ruled that buildings can be built at the site’s entrance to receive the public, and that these can include a souvenir shop. Similarly, in another part of the park, at a distance from the antiquities, a cafeteria and a restaurant can be built for visitors.

But committee members found no reason to approve a central commercial center with numerous eateries along Crusader Street. “In a large dining complex, spending time in the restaurant becomes the main event, and the national park turns into a mere backdrop for the restaurants,” the committee wrote.

It agreed to the building of artists’ workshops on Crusader Street, but not to the construction of retail shops. “Building shops would be crossing a line, and cannot be allowed because the emphasis is liable to be on commerce for its own sake, and not on preserving the historic value of the place,” the committee wrote.

The panel’s decision was based on a legal opinion on construction in national parks issued by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein two years ago.

In that opinion, Weinstein wrote, “Unlike in nature reserves, in national parks one can set up operations that are connected to the historic and national values of the park. For example, one can build an audiovisual presentation if it fits in with the character of the park and contributes to conveying its value to the public.”