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Beit Shemesh hopes to quadruple population with new housing, commercial plans

City moves forward with plan to establish large commercial and residential area in northern area

A view of the Israeli town of Bet Shemesh on February 8, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
A view of the Israeli town of Bet Shemesh on February 8, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Beit Shemesh could soon transform into a city of 500,000 residents, according to official building plans shared in local Hebrew-language media. If the blueprint is followed through, Beit Shemesh –which today does not even make the list of the top ten largest cities in Israel — would become one of the country’s largest urban areas.

Currently, somewhere between 124,000 and 140,000 people call Beit Shemesh home. It is one of the few places that Jerusalemites move out to when they leave the capital. The city is also a good base for employment either in Jerusalem or across the center of the country, although a key element of the proposed plan is to develop employment opportunities within Beit Shemesh.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Commission is pushing forward with plans to establish a large commercial and residential area in the north of the city, covering 2,276 dunams (562 acres). It will be comprised of 4,700 housing units, including 960 small apartments, 600 hotel rooms, office space, and access points to an integrated transport network which will be delivered by relocating the existing public transport hub.

This is in addition to another proposed residential neighborhood to the south of Ramat Beit Shemesh with another 4,600 apartments, including 940 small apartments and 300 apartments for special housing, as well as commercial space and public buildings in an area covering around 1,350 dunams (333 acres). It is promised that 221 dunams (55 acres) will be reserved for open areas, with 95 dunams (23 acres) of that total designated as a national park.

This project pushes further than Beit Shemesh’s original master plan, which set a target of 360,000 residents for the city in the coming years. The master plan focused more on urban renewal programs across Beit Shemesh’s older neighborhoods, using the national rebuild program Pinui v’Binui, and the framework to add additional stories to existing buildings (Tama 38) to increase the quality and density of the city center, as well as improving public spaces.

Plans are predicated on transport improvements along the road network to meet the travel needs of a significantly larger population. Minimum widths have been set for streets and development has been zoned in order to preserve views across the city, creating a denser living environment in the ridge area with more limited development in the valleys.

Earlier this year, the government committed to supporting the renewal and expansion of Beit Shemesh’s infrastructure, pledging over NIS 500 million ($160 million) for transport improvements, public buildings, and services to residents

For some time, Beit Shemesh has been among the fastest-growing population centers in the country. In less than 20 years, the number of inhabitants has nearly doubled. Almost half the city, 46%, is made up of children under the age of 14.

Aliza Bloch, who has been mayor of Beit Shemesh since 2018, has repeatedly declared that her focus will be on building up the city’s infrastructure and the quality of life that it can offer to its residents, both ultra-Orthodox and secular.

Last year, Beit Shemesh saw some of the highest house price increases in the country, after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

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