Bnei Zion residents petition court against Google data center

Bnei Zion building site for data center

Residents say the Hof HaSharon Regional Council did not consider environmental and health issues when granting approval.

A group of residents from Bnei Zion have petitioned the Lod District Court to cancel the approval that the Hof HaSharon Regional Council (north of Tel Aviv) granted to Google to start building a data center in the village (moshav). The petition asks the court to instruct the local regional council to reopen discussions on the matter, based on environmental considerations such as noise and radiation.

In mid-July the first stage in the construction of the server farm began with excavation and ground-works for the foundations. Construction is scheduled to take 18 months. The residents whose homes are adjacent to the site are fearful of the environmental and health implications of a data center next to their houses. The main concern is the noise generated by the 'chillers' which cool the huge computers in the data center as well as the non-ionizing radiation from the electrical, cellular and RF radio operations at the site.

The Hof HaSharon Regional Council claims that the final permit has not yet been granted and that the permit is only for the foundations of the building.

Google is in a race against time to build data centers in Israel by 2023, as part of its commitment to provide cloud services to government ministries and the Israel Defense Forces in the huge Nimbus tender, which it has won together with Amazon Web Services (AWS). To meet the terms of the tender, Google and AWS must build a network of large server farms around the country.

But while AWS is in advanced stages of construction of data centers in several industrial zones in the Hasharon region, Google is yet to get seriously going on building its data centers. It will be the last of the US tech giants to build data centers in Israel and following last week's administrative petition to the Lod court, Google is further away than ever to completing its construction task.

The planned data center on Bnei Zion is being built by Avner Papouchado's ServerFarm, in partnership with the Israel Infrastructure Fund (IIF). ServerFarm has an agreement with a company called Orachat, which will lease the data center to Google.

The petitioners claim that the regional council conducted an illegal and flawed procedure in awarding far reaching relaxations to the developers and did not take into account economic considerations.

Among other things, the residents claim that the procedure of informing the public about the plans was flawed, so that many residents of Bnei Zion did not know about the planning process, or the date for submitting objections to the local council. In addition, the petitioners claim that no environmental survey was presented examining the impact of the data center on the residents living near to the site, and that the residents had no reasonable opportunity to know about the plans. It is also claimed that the plans received major relaxations from the urban plan, in terms of size and height.

Adv. Ami Hollander wrote in the petition, "The petitioners are residents of Moshav Bnei Zion, who have developed a quiet, green moshav, which is overwhelmingly rural and includes low buildings and has kept open spaces. They were astonished to discover in July, through a WhatsApp group that in the center of the moshav, on land bordering onto their homes, infrastructure work had begun, foundations and development for the construction of a server farm installation. The petitioners had no knowledge and no reasonable possibility to know about the planning procedures that led to the start of the aforementioned infrastructure works."

Not all Bnei Zion's residents are opposed to the construction on the village's land. One of the partners in the construction is the Bnei Zion Farmers Association, which represents 80 families in the area, and was signed on the agreement with the Israel Land Authority to lease the land to ServerFarm.

Judge Zahava Bustan has set a date in November for a preliminary hearing on the matter.

Google declined to comment on the matter but sources close to the matter say that the company is not aware of any sort of problem that would delay its cloud activities in Israel, or disrupt them.

No response was received from ServerFarm.

The Hof Hasharon Regional Council confirmed that zoning of the land in question allows construction of a data center. The regional council stressed, "The Hof HaSharon Local Planning and Building Commission  is examining the health and environmental implications of the venture and has not yet issued a construction permit. The health of residents and protecting the environment are always top of the agenda and the considerations of the council."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on September 14, 2021

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Bnei Zion building site for data center
Bnei Zion building site for data center
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