Court halts major Jerusalem Hills urban plan, orders environmental assessment

Society for Protection of Nature in Israel welcomes ruling, urges government to cancel Reches Lavan project and preserve area as a national asset

Reches Lavan, or White Ridge, east of Jerusalem. (Dov Greenblat, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)
Reches Lavan, or White Ridge, east of Jerusalem. (Dov Greenblat, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)

The Jerusalem District Court ordered a pause in a major road and residential development project on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Thursday and instructed that an environmental impact assessment be conducted first.

The ruling came in response to a petition filed against the Reches Lavan (White Ridge) project for the construction of a split-level road and 5,250 residential units, in buildings of 5-12 stories, at a nature spot near the Jerusalem Zoo. The plan also includes 300 hotel rooms and commercial space.

In its verdict, the court said it was reversing a national planning committee decision to approve the plan and instead upheld an earlier appeals subcommittee ruling that an environmental impact assessment must be conducted before the project can begin.

The petition against the planning committee decision was filed by the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel along with two lobby groups, the 15 Minutes Public Transportation Alliance and Save the Hills of Jerusalem.

In a joint statement with the two lobby groups, SPNI said, “This is a tremendous achievement and an important step for the city of Jerusalem with better, greener public transportation and with more balanced planning.”

SPNI called on the government “to stop the development plans in the Jerusalem mountains and to preserve this space as a national asset for the benefit of the Jerusalem public and all residents of Israel.”

Artist’s rendering of the new neighborhood of Reches Lavan and the two-tier transportation system being proposed. (YouTube screenshot)

Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Yosi Havilio, who opposes the plan and signed on the petition, called the ruling “a great accomplishment for nature.”

“The ruling is a huge legal achievement for all nature lovers in Israel, as it reinforces the requirement for an environmental impact review, something the program’s initiators tried to avoid,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

Reches Lavan — named for its light, chalky rock — is located near the zoo and the southwest neighborhoods of Kiryat Hayovel, Givat Masua and Ein Kerem, and Moshav Ora just outside the city.

Home to Mediterranean vegetation and large mammals such as mountain gazelles and hyenas, the whole area, with its natural springs and spring-fed pools, serves as a green backyard for Jerusalemites and a popular weekend meeting place.

In December 2021, lawmakers from the previous government formed a Knesset caucus to save the hills around Jerusalem from urban development.

However, of the five MKs who started the group, only two, MKs Yorai Lahav-Hertzano of National Unity and Moshe Tur-Paz of Yesh Atid, are still in the Knesset, and they are both now in the opposition.

The Jerusalem municipality has tried to build on several hills to the capital’s west over the years, despite research by SPNI showing that the city’s housing goals can be met without digging up the local countryside.

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