Jerusalem Planning Committee Freezes Holyland Work Amid Investigation

The Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee decided yesterday to freeze work on the Holyland residential project, which is at the center of a major corruption investigation.
The decision would halt digging at the site, in preparation for the construction of three new towers, for 100 days.

In its decision, the committee endorsed an opinion by municipal legal adviser Yossi Havilio and city engineer Shlomo Eshkol, who said the contractors had already used up the project’s building rights and apartment quota, and could not therefore build more towers.

In fact, to build more towers, the contractors would need approval for relaxing the conditions under which the project was approved − and the last time this happened is the crux of the corruption investigation, which involves former Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert and other senior officials.

Sources at the committee meeting said it had been stormy, and described mutual allegations between committee members and Holyland company representatives.

Rafi Ettinger of the Yigal Arnon law office, which is representing the company, said several committee members expressed prejudices on the matter, and demanded they be disqualified. He also complained the entire motive for the discussion was publicity, claiming, “If the Holyland affair hadn’t exploded, none of this would’ve happened.”

“This is a populist move,” Ettinger said. The Holyland attorney also said the committee should distinguish between digging permits and construction permits.

Havilio rejected the claims, saying the company should’ve thought ahead rather than working on the assumption the municipality would agree to whatever it asked.

City engineer Eshkol is considering converting some of the remaining land at the site into public grounds instead of new high-rises. Meanwhile, negotiations between the company and the municipality will continue.