Since 2000, the city of Beit Shemesh has grown almost fourfold and has become one of the largest cities in Israel – but despite this, almost no employment space has been developed in the city. The municipality is now promoting a plan for a new business center with office towers, alongside residential towers that will include thousands of additional apartments. The mayor is convinced: “The plan will lead many young couples to choose their place of residence in Beit Shemesh.” At the same time, a new park along the historic railway line between Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem will allow convenient bicycle travel between the two cities
In recent years, the growth rate of the city of Beit Shemesh has been one of the highest in Israel, if not the highest. In 2000 its population was 44,000, in 2015 it was about 104,000, and today it is about 158,000 people – making it the 12th largest city in Israel. The average population growth rate of the city is 8.5% – an unprecedented figure for older cities, and the number is still rising. According to the municipal master plan, which outlines the development plans of the city until 2040, by then, the city is expected to number about 300,000 people. A significant portion of the city’s new population over the past 20 years belonged to the ultra-Orthodox sector, a fact that has obligated the municipality to develop educational institutions and public areas in larger quantities than usual.
However, there is one type of development that has been almost completely absent from the city over the years, and that is the development of employment and office buildings. The sharp increase in the number of residents was not supported by a similar increase in the volume of employment space in the city, not even close to it.
This is particularly significant given the Arnona system in Israel that rewards local authorities for commercial and office space with high municipal taxes, which are about three times higher than taxes for residential areas. Therefore, it is easy to see that while the rapid expansion of Beit Shemesh in recent decades has added many residents to the city, it has not necessarily helped the city’s financial balance.
However, a new plan, presented by the Beit Shemesh municipality at the beginning of June, is expected to change the situation. This is a plan for the northern central business center of the city – a plan that includes office, employment, and hotel towers of up to 40 floors and close to 3,000 additional apartments.
The plan covers an area of 300 dunams, near the northern entrance to Beit Shemesh, and includes employment and commercial areas totaling about 280,000 square meters of main areas and about 2,750 apartments, which will be built in towers 24-30 stories high. The plan also includes public areas with 135 classrooms designated for daycare centers, kindergartens, and school classrooms, as well as a metropolitan park around Nahal Sorek, a stream that flows near the city, which will be connected to the city by a pedestrian bridge and a perimeter access road north of the railway tracks.
Land ownership in the plan is mixed with part state land and part privately owned. Prominent among the main landowners in the area of the plan is the company “Big”, which specializes in shopping centers, and the retail empire “Rami Levy Shivuk Hashikma”.
Revenue will double
The Beit Shemesh municipality sees the plan as dramatic. In terms of employment – there is a large shortage of office space in the city, and companies that want to open operations in Beit Shemesh cannot do so due to the lack of space. Second, as noted, the new plan is expected to lead to a significant increase in municipal property tax revenues and bring them to a level of more than double their current level.
At the same time, the municipality expects that the plan will turn Beit Shemesh into a regional metropolis, which will serve as a counterweight to Jerusalem, which is less than half an hour’s drive from the city.
Beit Shemesh Mayor Dr. Aliza Bloch said, “We are on our way to making history in Beit Shemesh. A plan that combines thousands of housing units, commercial and employment complexes, and a leisure area, positions the city of Beit Shemesh as a developing city that unites the world of housing solutions with the world of economic development. The program is a force multiplier and will lead many young couples to determine their place of residence in Beit Shemesh. I see Beit Shemesh as Israel’s youth city, and the North Business Center plan is a central anchor in shaping the city.”
From Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem on Bicycles
Meanwhile, a project was recently approved for the construction of an expansive railway park, which will include bicycle and hiking paths, on the route of the historic train from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem. The project will be funded by theIsraelLand Authority’s Open Spaces Fund (ILA), and the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, which initiated the project, and whose new park is expected to pass through its territory.
The new park will include a bicycle path, promenades, and outdoor recreation on the existing railway track, alongside the development of tourist and leisure centers. The 33-kilometer route connects the city of Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, almost entirely in the Mateh Bet Shemesh to Yehuda area, and then reaches the Tzora Valley and connects to the planned council park.
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