Plan okayed for big police complex on scenic Jerusalem hill known for spring lupines
With blue flowers carpeting Mitzpe-Tel in the East Talpiot neighborhood of the capital, residents plead for their small patch of nature to be left alone
Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.
The Jerusalem District Planning Committee on Sunday approved a controversial Israel Police request to build a large police station on a hill popular with Jerusalemites for its carpets of blue lupines in spring, and its panoramic views.
The hill, known as Mitzpeh-Tel (a play on the Hebrew words for lookout and hill, which, when put together, mean “raspberry juice,” Israel’s term for fruit punch), affords magnificent views toward the Temple Mount, Herod’s tomb at Herodium, the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea.
The decision came as a month of activities began at the site on Thursdays and Fridays, culminating in a lupine festival March 30-31.
The police station plans are opposed by residents — both Jews in East Talpiot (also called Armon Hanatziv) and Palestinians from Jabel Mukaber just over the road, as well as the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and city council member and Deputy Mayor Yossi Havilio.
The 5,000-square-meter (54,000-square-foot) station, to be built near the bottom of the hill, will replace a roughly 2,000-square-meter (21,500-square-foot) temporary facility on a site nearby that has been earmarked for a hotel.
That police facility was set up in 2014 at the request of East Talpiot residents following the 2014 Gaza war.
Designed to serve both regular police and Border Police who focus on fighting terror, the new complex will include offices, living quarters, a parade ground, detention cells, a 30-meter (98-foot) high antenna, high-voltage electric lines, weapons storage, and perimeter fence with lighting and security cameras.
The district planning committee rejected most of the claims made by opponents of the plan and said the building’s dimensions were related to “security needs in the area,” which is located over the Green Line.
The committee said alternative sites had been considered but the current one was most suitable because it was the right size and shape, located between two roads, and had already been rezoned in 2006 for a different institution that was approved but never built.
The committee noted that the higher parts of the hill, covering just under 100,000 square meters (25 acres), where the lupines grow in the spring and sea squills in the fall, would be unaffected.
The new complex would be lower down on the eastern end of the ridge, where the committee claimed there was nothing of ecological importance, and would be more than 25 meters (82 feet) from the nearest homes.
Noting that the originally planned building, which was never built, would have stood at 793.5 meters (2,603 feet) above sea level, and that the highest point of the hill was at 796 meters (2,611.5 feet) above sea level, the committee ordered that the height of the police station be reduced by six meters (9.7 feet) to a maximum of 791 meters (2,595 feet) above sea level, so as not to block views to the Judean Desert and beyond.
The committee also limited the number of holding cells to three.
It rejected a suggestion that the public be allowed onto a viewing deck on the police station roof, for security reasons.
The Jerusalem Municipality, whose planning committee greenlighted the construction before the district planning committee did, said in a statement that — like the residents and the local neighborhood council — Mayor Moshe Lion and the council were committed to preserving the hill and its flowers, but that a police station was critical for the safety of both the nearby neighborhoods.
In its submission opposing the plan, local residents, who collected over 1,000 petition signatures, said the site not only attracted thousands of visitors during the lupine blooming period but served as a green backyard all year round, enabling people of all ages to take part in outdoor activities — as evidenced by makeshift ovens, seating and other facilities that have been created over the years.
The importance of preserving the open space only increased in light of plans to build thousands of additional housing units in the immediate vicinity, they added.
“There’s a great richness of flora where they’re intending to build,” said tour guide Gadi Dahan, one of the campaign leaders, pledging that the fight to save the whole hill would continue.
Dahan dismissed claims by the mayor and municipality that they were protecting the site, noting that the council had already allowed large trucks to park on the western edge of the hill, destroying the rich flora there.
“It’s the same story with all the urban nature sites in Jerusalem,” he went on. “Within the past two years, we’ve lost 4.5 out of six such sites in the neighborhood to development, all with the encouragement of the mayor.”