Amending the environmental shortcomings in the Plan for the new “Western Neighborhood”.
Toward the end of 2017, the Plan for the new Western Neighborhood was deposited for objections. The plan for the Western Neighborhood foresees the development of 185 exclusive, single family homes, each on a plot of half a “dunam,” i.e., 500 sq/m. Each owner will also be entitled to build two vacation units. The Western Neighborhood is adjacent to the Gevanim neighborhood, the last neighborhood that was built in the 1990s. It is therefore still called “the new neighborhood” by Mitzpe Ramon residents.
Environmental planning shortcomings
Deracinated plots of nature not intended for development: Despite the detailed guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Ministry (EPM), Keshet discovered that the Housing Ministry, which had deposited the plan for the new neighborhood, failed to incorporate the rehabilitation of about 40 dunams (four hectares) of natural habitat that had been deracinated during the construction of the Gvanim neighborhood – and which the Ministry had not rehabilitated at that time.
The buffer zone between the development and the desert The EPM also decreed the creation of a clear buffer zone between the built-up areas and the open areas. In contrast, the Housing Ministry, for its part, had only projected an unpaved service road leading to the central sewer installation. The purpose of this buffer zone is, on the one hand, to protect the open spaces and, on the other hand, to serve as a desert promenade for the inhabitants.
Past experience has proven that dirt roads on the edge of built-up areas in the desert turn – with time – into illegal dumps, makeshift storage areas and a target for encroachment of private gardens and installations. Local government can hardly control this and, therefore, the result is usually the accumulation of hazards and infringements that destroy the natural landscape and its equilibrium.
Recycling Sites Despite the instructions incorporated clearly in the Landscape Appendix to the Plan, the Housing Ministry did not include planning for recycling installation hubs where paper, glass, packaging and hard plastics can be desposed of. Obviously, the lack of these hubs will lead to clutter in a newly built neighborhood.
Such lack of hubs would lead to inadequate upkeep of the neighborhood. Ultimately, it would would limit the residents’ willingness and motivation to recycle.
Keshet’s objections to the Plan:
- The permit for development shall be conditional on the submission of a plan to rehabilitate deracinated areas.
- Instead of the unpaved dirt road, a plan shall be submitted for a paved, scenic foot- and cycling path, with observation points and shaded rest areas.
- The construction’s blueprint shall be amended to include designated hubs for recycling containers, at reasonable distances throughout the neighborhood.
The decision of the Regional Committee
The Regional Committee accepted most of the Keshet’s demands for rectifications in the Plan. With the implementation of these changes, the plan was sigficantly improved and, enhancing the quality of living of the neighborhood’s future residents .
- Rehabilitation The development and construction of the neighborhood shall not be declared complete until all the rubble and other dumped materials are removed from the 40 dunams of deracinated areas and the rehabilitation is completed in full, as per the plan for all the adjacent areas.
- Buffer Zone A plan shall be drawn up for a scenic buffer zone, at least 15 meters wide, alongside the planned paved road. This buffer shall include scenic rehabilitation, a scenic foot- and bike path, and the rehabilitation of the local flora – the latter in coordination with the EPM and the Nature Reserve Authority.
- Recycling areas The committee rejected Keshet’s demand for designated recycling hubs. Keshet expects that during the next phases of detailed planning, the planners will reconsider this necessity.
Keshet continues to monitor the inclusion of local planning committee’s instructions in the detailed planning of the neighborhood.
July 2020 Update
During 2019-2020, the neighborhood plots began to be auctioned by the Israel Lands Authority according to a marketing plan initiated by the local council.
The 49 Inferior lots, which face the ‘Gvanim’ neighborhood, were allocated for private construction (build your home project), 25 of them in favor of the community. 136 plots were allotted in favor of a single building contractor committed, according to tender documents, to establish an employment facility, 2,000 square meters in size.
The two tenders that took place yielded zero bids, while the first ‘build your home’ first auction ended with a low demand of only 16 plots. In other words, the demand for neighborhood plots as of this date is less than 8%.
Despite the low demand, the local council and the Ministry of Construction nevertheless decided to develop all the neighborhood plots with a special budget of NIS 24 million, which the Ministry of Construction transferred to the economic development company Mitzpe Ramon. In terms of the local council and the Ministry of Construction and Housing, the development constitutes a “marketing act” to show potential contractors “seriousness”.
The Corona crisis, along with the climate crisis, teach us that harming nature and open territories has a heavy economic, social and environmental cost. May we not at this time, learn the lesson and to minimize necessary further destruction of habitats and natural areas, especially in areas with high ecological sensitivity?
Due corona crisis, the state of Israel is increasingly facing the economic crisis worst in its history. Is it right to spend public money currently budgeted project, yet to be proven that he can be realized?
For these reasons, Keshet approached Mitzpe Ramon Development Director, Adv. Naama Dahan initially , and then approached the Director General of the Ministry of Construction, requesting them to postpone the start of the neighborhood development until a successful and proven marketing of at least 50% of the lots.
Unfortunately, Mitzpe Ramon local council and the Ministry of Construction ignored the environmental and economic logic underlying reference and decided to proceed anyway with development. We can only hope that the neighborhood will not become another local failure like the never built airport (100 hectares), or the industrial area (150 hectares) developments which destroyed natural desert land that became a wasteland.