Lupolianski Suspends Plan to Destroy Jerusalem Forest

A controversial development plan to expand the capital city at the expense of parts of the Jerusalem Forest was suspended Thursday by Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lopolianski.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 09:37

The move comes after a long struggle by environmentalist groups which have spent more than three and a half years fighting the Safdie Plan - the showcase project of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s tenure as Mayor of Jerusalem.

Designed to meet a projected demand for some 165,000 residential units by the year 2020, it is the largest construction and development program ever proposed for Jerusalem.

Under the plan, outlying communities such as Mevaseret Zion, Ein Karem and others would be connected to the capital through the construction of some 20,000 residential units on 26,000 dunams of land, destroying significant parts of the Jerusalem Forest in the process.

Knesset Member Dov Hanin (Hadash) is one of those who opposed the plan at a government debate on the issue last month. He noted that some 16,000 objections were filed against the plan over the past three and a half years, telling his fellow legislators, “The plan destroys wonderful open areas, including a national park… [it would ] discourage developers from building new neighborhoods within the city limits.”

Lupolianski expressed concern that the project has also distracted developers from developing land within the capital that was already zoned for residential construction, and would provide more apartments for young couples.

Sustainable Jerusalem, a coalition of environmental and social organizations in the capital, also claims there is plenty of room to build within the present city limits.

It was this last point that convinced Lupolianski on Thursday to make a formal request to the National Planning and Construction Council to join him in halting the project.

After meeting with the groups fighting the project, the Mayor decided to back alternative projects to develop existing Jerusalem neighborhoods instead. These projects could yield up to 60,000 new housing units.