The battle begins for Jerusalem's skyline

A 40-floor high-rise building planned for Kiryat Hayovel, nicknamed Jerusalem's Burja Khalifa, has sparked a fierce debate about the city's architectural future.

Two months ago plans for a 40-floor high-rise building in Jerusalem hit the headlines. The planned building in Kiryat Hayovel's Epstein complex will include housing units, hotel rooms, commercial and office space and public amenities. The plan stirred up a media controversy when it was reported that the Jerusalem Municipality had recommended approval and deposit for objections. However, the plan will still need approval by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Commission before being deposited for objections.

No Jerusalem building has been so controversial since the infamous Holyland. The Kiryat Hayovel building, nicknamed Jerusalem's Burja Khalifa after the world's tallest building in Dubai, is no one-off event but rather an integral part of future plans to build high in Israel's capital, and this is not to everybody's liking. Jerusalem municipal officials fiercely defend their plan and insist that it is essential.

Jerusalem City Engineer Yoel Even said, "Jerusalem is a city that is developing at a good and very intensive pace. Our approach says that in order to develop the city and strengthen it, there is a need to invest in building housing units, places for jobs, and other uses, so that they will support the development of the city.

"If today Kiryat Yovel, for example, is a neighborhood with 19,000 or 20,000 residents, in another 10-20 years it is expected to grow by 6,000-7,000 housing units, in other words 25,000 new residents will be added. In order to provide the response that they need, we need not only new apartments but also new public areas and that will only be done by rising high."

"Building a tower has planning, aesthetic and social value"

The tower planned for Kiryat Yovel will have 40 floors with 240 apartments, hotel rooms, 4,000 square meters of public buildings, and 200 square meters of commercial space. Senior Jerusalem municipal officials are aware of the criticism and concerns of the city's residents but claim it is the best plan for Jerusalem and specifically that area where it will be built.

Even says, "The project is on the route of the light rail and according to the policy for the light rail it should have contained two 18-floor towers. In other words if we didn't change anything we would get two towers on this piece of land - a large and major area in a central location - without any public space, which would in practice choke this area because they would take up more land on the ground than a single tower.

"The alternative that the Municipality has approved talks about one high building, and alongside it a large public space that will allow use by everyone. The project is right by the light rail so that people visiting can get there easily, to enjoy the view, from major public functions, from the hotel beneath, and major cultural uses, including municipal ones. Ultimately, the public gets more from this alternative.

Jerusalem Municipality Urban and Business Strategic Development Division head Sharon Mandelbaum adds, "Building a tower has planning, aesthetic and social value, and very large uses. It is visually beautiful, it is efficient, it only takes up one piece of land and can concentrate inside it very many functions. It allows quality of life, for example fresh air and daylight, advantages that in dense, textured construction, not many people enjoy.

"A tower also allows residents to live much closer to services. This is the key to our approach today and is in practice the foundation of urban life, in contrast to rural life where there are very large, wide open spaces but very low access to public services. A city is actually a crowding together in a very small area of land that allows every one of the residents living there to very easily reach services, both public and commercial. The tower is a microcosm of this concept."

"The public is slowly believing more in towers"

Do Jerusalem's residents simply find it difficult to digest the move to high buildings as shown by the Burja Khalifa?

Even says, "Until today the construction of high buildings has been less relevant for Jerusalem but the public is slowly believing more in towers. As more and more like these will be built, people will appreciate their value, so that the matter will be better accepted by us. Every new thing arouses concerns and that is natural. People don't know what sort of population will come to the city and in urban renewal projects it is not known how the issue of maintenance costs in the new tower will be handled.

"As part of this, we have recently led urban renewal plans - in which the first 10 years of maintenance is paid for by the developer. In other words all the veteran tenants who enter the new tower after the project is completed will pay the same maintenance payments for the first 10 years that they knew in their previous homes.

"Regarding the Epstein complex in particular, there are of course people who are opposed to the project but there are also those supporting it. On every matter there are different views. Jerusalem's residents don't know this plan and suddenly a tower is 'growing.' But this is a plan stemming from the right thinking that has undergone very intense collaboration with the public and I'm sure it will be done the way it should."

"There is a limit to what one neighborhood can give"

Among the main opponents to the plan that has been approved by the municipality in Kiryat Yovel is Ofer Berkovitch, chairman of the Wake-Up Jerusalem movement, a city councilor and the candidate who challenged Mayor Moshe Lion in the last municipal elections. He is also a member of the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Commission, where he proposed his version of what should be built on the Epstein complex, which was not accepted.

He said, In my opinion, you don't need to realize the entire building percentage allowed on the lot. It's possible to make do with 30 floors, also because of the sensitivity of adjacent national sites like Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl, and also because of the desire to protect the natural wadi that leads to Ein Kerem and because of th enormous congestion in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood where a lot of projects have been approved recently.

"It's not possible to continue to enlarge construction in this district. There is a limit to what one neighborhood can give. There is a feeling here that there are no restraints and that they are shooting indiscriminately and that there is no connection between the plan and what the residents of the city feel. True there are NIMBY claims and true nobody wants this built near them but there is something bigger here. This is part of an onslaught of projects planned for the neighborhood that will lead to a major struggle. We are in favor of urban renewal in Kiryat Yovel but it must not be that the full force is focused there. It mustn't be that one neighborhood alone will suffer 10 years of crazy construction."

In discussions in the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Commission, Berkovitch also proposed enlarging the proportion of office space and cultural amenities in the building, saying that it would better serve the residents. But the proposal was rejected.

In the same discussions the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Commission said, "The plan in our eyes offers a different construction approach of focusing building rights in a single building in order to reduce the amount of ground covered by buildings at street level, and allow the building of a broad public square and create unique landmarks on the site."

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Commission added, "The Commission thinks that the appearance of the proposed building and its integration into the landscape is appropriate for the quality of the site and the planning concept of the Commission in integrating high-rise building onto the line of the city's ridge. The change in the city's skyline reflects the continued development and the change in planning and design trends over time, according to the latest needs."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on May 31, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

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