Swiss embassy opposes Ramat Gan housing project

18 McDonald Street Photo: Eyal Izhar

The embassy objects to the project in the Tal Binyamin neighborhood on security grounds.

The Swiss Embassy in Israel opposes construction of a residential building in the Tel Binyamin neighborhood in Ramat Gan on a lot near the home of the Swiss ambassador, citing security grounds. The embassy said, "The Swiss ambassador holds many different kinds of events in the yard of his home during the year, such as concerts and social events and Swiss Independence Day on August 1, in which the ambassador hosts government ministers, MKs, Swiss ministers and CEOs, Israeli ambassadors from all over the world, ambassadors of important countries in Israel, and so forth. These events are held in the ambassador's garden, with hundreds of participants.

"Up until now, the character of the neighborhood served the needs and privacy needed for the ambassador's residence, constituting a safe environment for these purposes." The embassy asserts that if the project is approved and the ambassador's home can be viewed from the apartments on the high floors of the project, it will constitute a grave security risk for the ambassador and his guests.

The planned project at 18 MacDonald Street is located near the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange. It features luxurious private homes, including a number of ambassadors' homes. On the other side of the lot is bustling Jabotinsky Street. There is an approved plan for the site involving construction of an 11-storey building with 30 apartments. The owner of the lot, however, B.S. Construction Ventures, wants to increase this to 12 floors and build 45 small apartments there. The District Planning and Building Commission recently deposited the plan for public objections.

The Swiss embassy owns a private home at 14 MacDonald Street that serves as the Swiss ambassador to Israel's official residence. The Swiss objection submitted through Adv. Michael Pappe, who is also the honorary general consul in Israel representing Switzerland and Germany, stated that the Tel Binyamin neighborhood is a residential neighborhood with a special character and a high proportion of historic buildings. "The Swiss embassy chose to put its ambassador's home in this neighborhood in a building designated for preservation for good reason," the objection states.

"The Swiss embassy's events are held regularly at the ambassador's residence, which is very close to the project. The ambassador's residence has in effect become the 'interior' of the Swiss embassy in Israel. The embassy deliberately chose to put its ambassador's residence in the Tel Binyamin neighborhood, with its unique character, in a house with the highest preservation rating," the objection states. The embassy also states that it relied on the current planning situation when it purchased the house. "The project does not match the prevailing construction typical of the Tel Binyamin neighborhood, and does not fit in with the need to preserve the neighborhood's character and style," the embassy argues in its objections.

This is not the only objection to the plan filed. 20 property owners in the neighborhood argue through Adv. Rami Fargan and Adv. Gal Erel from the Fargan Peles & Co. law firm that approval of the additional construction will cause traffic jams and a parking shortage, and that approval of 45 80-square meter apartments instead of 30 90-square meter apartments is unacceptable. "From a national perspective, additional small apartments in order to meet the demand for small apartments in high-demand areas and approving the purchase of apartments by those unable to afford larger apartments are necessary," the objection states.

"This rationale, however, does not exist in Ramat Gan, which has a large number of small apartments and strong demand for large apartments for which there is no solution. This phenomenon leads to demographic distortion, as clearly shown in the city's educational systems: families with high school-age children are leaving the city because there are no proper housing solutions. As a result, the city features a young population on the one hand, together with an older population with no children on the other, while there are relatively few families with children, who are normally the backbone of any vital city." The residents opposing the plan added that Ramat Gan's deposited outline plan cites the need for "a multi-generational and diverse population, and in order to ensure this, a composition of apartments favoring 4-6-room apartments should be set."

Ramat Gan municipal engineer Aliza Seidler Granot also filed an objection to the plan, explaining that the plan was deposited in the guise of "urban renewal," while actually being "only developmental." She wrote that the plan "at one blow tramples planning principles set in a relatively new plan applying to the lot. The planning result is disproportionate and has no planning justification. Its sole purpose is economic profit, and nothing else."

Seidler Granot adds that the deposited plan also includes a public road owned by the Ramat Gan municipality, which is likely to be eliminated and serve as an entry and exit access for the project's tenants. In practice, the requested additional construction and all of the transportation solutions accompanying it are made possible by the road "taken over" for the project, which in effect is being expropriated from the municipality and the public without approval from the municipality - the owner of the road. In addition, Seidler Granot attached an opinion by traffic engineer Yossi Weiss stating that MacDonald Street cannot accommodate any additional traffic in its current state, and that vehicular traffic on the street should be reduced as much as possible.

According to Seidler Granot, the plan does not include a transportation solution for the planned kindergarten and commercial space in the project. There are no stopping places for cars, and the traffic load on the street is therefore likely to grow. She also states that in February 2014, the municipality announced the preparation of a preservation plan for the city, including a three-year freeze on building permits. The plan includes a list of properties for preservation, including the property at 18 MacDonald Street. The plan's validity was also extended by the District Planning and Building Commission for an additional period. Furthermore, the municipality announced in October 2015 that it was formulating a specific plan for preserving Tel Binyamin.

Another objection to the plan was submitted by the Society for Preservation of Historical Sites, which is demanding a hearing on the fate of the house on the lot, which it asserts is worthy of preservation. The Society states in its objection that the house was built on land purchased by Yitzhak Leib Goldberg, a Zionist who was one of the founders of the Habima Theater and companies such as Israel Land Corporation and Carmel Mizrahi, as well as being the first publisher of "Haaretz." Goldberg bought land in the neighborhood, which was named after his son Binyamin, killed in the 1929 Arab riots. His niece, Ada Auerbach, lived in the house, which was built in 1950. Furthermore, at the foot of the building is a gravel ridge declared as designated for preservation. Unfortunately, only three years later, in 2011, after a construction plan applying to the lot was approved, the house at 18 MacDonald Street was put on the list or properties that the Ramat Gan municipality wanted to preserve in the framework of the earlier preservation plan for the neighborhood, and restrictions on issuing a building permit apply to it until the preservation plan is completed.

The Tel Binyamin neighborhood was also declared designated for preservation in 2015, and the Society for Preservation of Historical Sites therefore argues that the building is entitled to double protection from demolition. It says that construction in the neighborhood after it was declared designated for preservation requires taking its existing style into account. On the other hand, any individual plan in the neighborhood before a general policy for the neighborhood establishing a maximum height for construction is completed constitutes an improper planning measure. The Society for Preservation of Historical Sites argues in its objection that the requested additional construction has a clear effect on the neighborhood's style and increases the deviation of the planned building from the other buildings in the neighborhood. The Society also proposes an alternative for moving the construction rights away from the neighborhood and exercising them outside it, as well as an option for exchanging the land. Another alternative is preservation of Beit Auerbach and construction of a residential building facing Jabotinsky Road, to which access will be from that road.

The Tel Aviv District Planning and Building Commission said in response, "Since the objection is outstanding, we cannot comment on it at this stage. Like all objections, this one will be heard, discussed, and a decision will be made on it."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 16, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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18 McDonald Street Photo: Eyal Izhar
18 McDonald Street Photo: Eyal Izhar
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