This article was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday November 20, 1996
The Jerusalem Municipality is moving ahead with plans to construct two new neighborhoods along Emek Arazim, despite the sharp opposition of environmentalists to the development of the last unspoiled stretch of valley at the city's western entrance, city officials said yesterday.
The municipality wants to build one haredi and one secular neighborhood on separate hillsides in the valley, which lies below Mevasseret Zion, Ramot, and the abandoned Arab village of Lifta, the officials said.
They outlined the plans before Deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush, who was a guest of city hall yesterday.
Mayor Ehud Olmert rejected the opposition of environmentalists, saying the municipality is sticking to the long-standing policy of not building in valleys, as the new neighborhoods are slated for hillsides, and not the valley it-self.
Porush, who was taken by Olmert to an overlook of the Emek Arazim, also expressed support for the project. "I think that we will see here soon - that is, after a couple of years - two beautiful neighborhoods," Porush said.
Olmert said the new neighborhoods are necessary to ease the city's housing shortage. The haredi neighborhood is to include some 2,200 units on Givat Alona, and the secular neighborhood about 3,500 units at Mitzpeh Nakofa, city engineer Uri Ben-Asher said.
The city wants the government to agree to fund the construction of a tunnel under Emek Arazim to protect the natural landscape of the valley, Ben-Asher said. Otherwise, the proposed road will cut straight through the valley, he said.
Ben-Asher said the city is finalizing an environmental study of the Emek Arazim development plans, and that af-terwards the plans would be prepared for approval by the various zoning and building boards.
The proposed development of Emek Arazim has been a heated topic in recent years. Environmentalists have fought hard to protect the little remaining green areas in the Jerusalem Corridor, while city officials lobbied for new construction to meet housing needs.
Meanwhile, city officials also revealed yesterday that NIS 800,000 have been budgeted for the planning of the controversial Eastern Gate project, that if approved would necessitate expropriation of Arab-owned lands.
The Eastern Gate project, which is to include some 2,000 homes for Jewish families and a technological park, is to cover an area between Pisgat Ze'ev, the Ma'aleh Adumim highway, and A-Zayim village.
The project was first proposed in the late 1980s, when Ariel Sharon served as housing minister. Olmert has re-peatedly said he supports moving ahead with construction there as soon as possible.
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