Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5766 - June 14, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Jerusalem's Master Plan: Expanding Outward and Upward

by Betzalel Kahn

The Local Planning and Construction Committee at the Jerusalem Municipality recently approved the new master plan, Jerusalem 2000, which provides many improvements for the city's chareidi population. The plan was initiated and outlined by Mayor Rabbi Uri Lupoliansky back when he was serving as chairman of the Planning and Construction Committee, as part of efforts to define the municipality's vision in terms of building and other needs in the years to come, and to create a uniform plan for the city.

The plan includes provisions for the construction of chareidi educational institutions, shuls, cultural institutions and other religious facilities as well as new housing and building extensions, public amenities, mass transit lines, commercial and industrial zones, and building preservation. The planning team, which consisted of 25 architects and engineers working hard for the last four years, was headed by the Mayor, former Jerusalem District Planner Moshe Cohen, Planning and Construction Committee Chairman and Deputy Mayor Rabbi Yehoshua Pollak, the Municipality Director-General and the City Engineer.

Team of Chareidi Architects

"The plan," said Mayor Lupoliansky, "will determine the structure of the city for the years to come in terms of preserving the city's spiritual and educational values, such as a fundamental solution for the severe overcrowding in the chareidi educational system and the construction of public facilities like botei medrash, botei knesses and mikvo'os as well as the city's physical development, such as further [housing] construction to allow the younger population to come to the city, preserving the landscape and open areas, high-rise construction, environmental quality and more."

One of the central aspects of the plan is increasing the amount of land available for the construction of educational and public institutions. Thus the Mayor initiated parks called Life Centers that blend in complexes that house both public and educational institutions. Within a few years these centers could solve the severe problem of overcrowding in some chareidi educational institutions. The master plan requires builders to allocate space for the construction of public facilities for residents of adjacent neighborhoods as well.

The plan also provides an option for builders to provide office space for public entities on the lower floors of eight- story residential buildings. Moving small institutions into these buildings would free other space for overcrowded schools to use.

These parts of the original master plan, like many other parts that underwent alterations, were outlined by a team of chareidi architects who worked in cooperation with neighborhood rabbonim to take into account the needs of chareidi residents. Easements were granted, plans for high- rise buildings in many neighborhoods were scrapped, and buildings over eight stories anywhere in the city will require special permits. In many places buildings can be constructed without any parking spaces in order to reduce apartment prices for the portion of the chareidi public that relies primarily on public transportation.

Commerce and Employment

The plan also has provisions for commercial areas. Businesses will not be allowed to spread out onto side streets like Amos, Yonah and Yaakov Meir in the Geulah neighborhood, but will only be permitted at ground level within view of Rechov Malchei Yisrael.

Greenbelts in Jerusalem and the environs are slated to cover an area bigger than all of Tel Aviv. The total area of neighborhood parks will be tripled. Thousands of acres of metropolitan parks will be laid out and a municipal authority for their care and maintenance will be set up.

Other sections of the plan discuss building a high-tech park, preserving the landscape and preparing special plans for the preservation of 29 unique buildings and sites around the city (in places like Meah Shearim, Shechunat HaBucharim, Rechavia and the Old City).

The master plan even addresses the mass transportation system and includes data on the light rail line under construction. Preference is given to public transportation, park-and-ride lots and band roads to reroute thru traffic to the edge of the city.

To encourage young couples to move to the city, the plan allows for the expansion and densification of existing neighborhoods, through the addition of thousands of new housing units in chareidi neighborhoods like Ramot, Ramat Shlomo and other North Jerusalem neighborhoods, and the expansion of existing buildings, both upwards and outwards.

The regulations detailed in the plan grant the Local Planning Committee sole responsibility for deciding on the majority of building permit requests, thereby reducing waiting time from years to months.

Romema Already Expanding

A plan for the construction of 2,500 housing units in Romema, located near the entrance to the city, has already received approval. Gradually the neighborhood is changing from a place of printing houses, small factories, wedding halls and auto repair shops into an all-chareidi residential neighborhood. Currently about 700 living units are there, some of them built many years ago. The additional units will add at least another 15,000 new inhabitants.

Due to the lack of lots available for public facilities, the Local Planning Committee, headed by Rabbi Yehoshua Pollak, decided that some of the botei knesses and kindergartens will be housed in large apartment buildings. The neighborhood's main thoroughfare, Rechov Yirmiyahu, will be refurbished and the sidewalks widened. Along the length of the road, trees will be planted and commercial areas set up.

The neighborhood expansion plan was formulated to create order amidst the various plans of the private entrepreneurs who purchased land originally built for the use of industry in order to knock them down and build residential buildings. The individual plans submitted would have led to overcrowding and a shortage of space for schools, botei knesses and open areas.

Tens of Thousands of New Apartments

In total, the new master plan for Jerusalem speaks of an additional 105,000 new housing units, both by expanding the existing neighborhoods and building new neighborhoods. That's the official figure, but municipal officials believe the real number will be a bit bigger.

Of this increase, at least 22,000 housing units will be added as chareidi neighborhoods, both as additions to existing neighborhoods and new neighborhoods slated for construction, such as Mitzpeh Neftoach (in the valley below the entrance to the city), which are apparently designated for the chareidi public.

The rest of the apartments will be added to neighborhoods not defined as all-chareidi. Neighborhoods like Ramot, for example, where more than half the residents are nonetheless chareidi though it is not yet considered a chareidi area.

Sooner or later the entire Ramot will probably be chareidi. Ramot Alef is now half chareidi and changing all the time. Ramot Gimmel, Dalet and Polin are all chareidi. Ramot Beit has many chareidi families and more are starting to move in. It will take several years before the last secular residents leave the neighborhood because they will fight to the end to keep the neighborhood secular, even if only a handful remain. Then of course the demographic change will lead to more construction for the chareidi population in addition to the plans for another 10,000 dwelling units by extending Ramot east toward Beit Chanina and west toward Ichsa. Thus many more than 22,000 apartments will be added to the city's chareidi neighborhoods.

Ramat Shlomo is slated to double in size with the addition of 2,500 apartments. Massive expansion is planned along the edges of the northern chareidi neighborhoods, from Givat Moshe to Mattersdorf. The new buildings will be interspaced with botei knesses and other public facilities so long- time residents of the older neighborhoods also stand to benefit from the construction.

Neighborhoods like Har Nof, however, will grow only slightly. Building additional floors onto the roof of existing buildings will not be permitted because the buildings there are already high. The neighborhood is closed in on all sides by the Jerusalem Forest, except for a narrow strip near the gas and fuel storage facilities where a few hundred housing units have already been approved for construction.

Bayit Vegan is slated to grow by a few hundred housing units on Antenna Hill at the entrance to the neighborhood, along with expansion toward Kiryat Yoveil in one direction, and Rechov Uziel and Rechov Ze'ev Chaklai in another direction — both through new construction and the purchase of homes currently owned by secular residents.

Expanding into Secular Neighborhoods

Jerusalem also has a number of former predominantly secular neighborhoods, such as Ramat Eshkol, where chareidi families are beginning to move in. Although prices went up here due to the large demand by young chareidi couples and the low availability of apartments for sale, there has been a noticeable flow of chareidi migration to adjacent neighborhoods like Givat Hamivtar which has many single- family homes known as "villas" in Israel. Buyers here, many of them chareidim from abroad, have considerable resources. Fed up with the exorbitant prices in Rechavia, they prefer to buy or build single-family homes elsewhere in Jerusalem. Ramat Eshkol already has developed chareidi services, with two shuls for bnei Torah as well as full shopping. The BaDaTz eiruv encircles it, and parts are inside of a neighborhood eiruv. There are serious efforts to build and install a Shabbos generator. It is also convenient to the center of town.

Housing experts at the municipality predict that chareidi families will eventually come to Gilo, even though it is not connected to any other chareidi neighborhood, unlike Kiryat Yoveil, Ramat Eshkol and Romema, for example. Thousands of housing units are slated for construction on the steeper slopes of the neighborhood. If chareidim start to drift into the neighborhood within the next five to ten years, which is a definite possibility, many more apartments would be available to the chareidi public. Even if this appears unrealistic for now, after the "chareidization" of Kiryat Yoveil, Ramot and Ramat Eshkol, anything can happen.

In the past two years chareidi families have begun to return to the center of the city — Shaarei Chessed, Nachlaot and nearby Rechavia. Many of these areas were once chareidi, notably Shaarei Chessed. Although it never completely lost its chareidi character, for many years few young families moved there. Now this has changed. Although these neighborhoods cannot expand outwards, the number of apartments can be doubled quite easily by turning two-story buildings into four-story buildings. (However, the parking problem, as in the rest of Central Jerusalem, is not so easily solved.)

Will Housing Costs Decrease?

With so many housing units slated to go up in Jerusalem, presumably apartment prices will go down. The Mayor has spoken about driving prices down on several occasions.

According to real estate professionals apartment prices in Jerusalem are determined by two factors: the cost of land and capital gains taxes. The other major component of prices, construction costs, are the same as anywhere else — Jerusalem stone in Jerusalem costs the same as Jerusalem stone in Beit Shemesh or Beitar Illit. But both the cost of land and the taxes are very high in Jerusalem.

Whether the law will be amended to reduce capital gains taxes remains to be seen. Land values, on the other hand, are based on supply and demand. Today there is a shortage of land in Jerusalem, but clearly if a large number of housing units are built in neighborhoods around the city one of two things will happen: prices will either drop temporarily or at least not rise.

When Ramat Shlomo was built in North Jerusalem, prices in the city's chareidi neighborhoods dropped by 15 percent, since for about a year apartments were in large supply. On the other hand neighborhood expansion would add only a few hundred apartments here and there every year — not a large enough quantity to cause a significant reduction in prices.

The chance of a substantial price drop depends on the rate of construction and whether Mitzpeh Neftoach is built as a massive new neighborhood for the chareidi sector, which would cause a moderate decrease of 5-10 percent.


Experts say the addition of 20,000 or even 30,000 housing units would be depleted quickly considering the size of the chareidi population of Jerusalem, which constitutes 40 percent of the chareidi population throughout the country. Since this sector requires at least 5,000 new apartments annually, 20,000 to 30,000 apartments would only last a few years, forcing public figures to seek other new solutions for young couples.


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