In the heart of the national park in Ramat Gan, in the center of a spacious lake filled with ducks, stands a round building, which is closed to the general public. It’s neglected and dismal, but veteran park-goers recall that a few decades ago it was a bustling café, accessible by boat. Now, as the park is undergoing a facelift sponsored by the municipality, the café is still closed, waiting for an entrepreneur to pick up the gauntlet and restore its former glory.
The lake in the heart of the national park is a marketing point for the three buildings slated to be built on adjacent Ahad Ha’am Street, in the Ramat Shikma neighborhood. The development has even been named The Lake. Although Ramat Shikma is not considered an upscale neighborhood, the small artificial lake is expected to bring in well-to-do clientele: A 3-room apartment starts at 2.53 million shekels ($754,000), and a penthouse at 6.6 million shekels.
“The lake lends a feeling of a vacation abroad,” explains Ran Ben Avraham, deputy CEO of Tzemach Hammerman, one of the companies building the project. “Everyone has some photo next to a lake from a foreign vacation. It’s the most pastoral thing possible. The lake is the new seaside.”
Ben Avraham is not wrong: In recent years lakes – most of them artificial, because after all, Israel is not Switzerland – have become the latest trend of the real estate scene. While it’s very hard to buy apartments and to build right on the Mediterranean waterline, a small lake can be created in almost any open space in order to build apartments with a lake view accros from it.
“The 2004 Protection of the Coastal Environment Law imposes restrictions on construction along Israel’s coastlines,” explains architect Yoav Oman, owner and partner at Tito-Oman architects. “It prohibits [all] construction within 100 meters of the sea; hotels and vacation sites can be built up to 300 meters away, and only beyond the 300-meter line can you build homes. When it’s impossible to build next to the beach, you build next to lakes, which are not included in the law.”
Oman says that although residences near the sea are considered upscale, they suffer from quite a few disadvantages that don’t exist near a lake. For example, buildings by the sea suffer from corrosion due to the salinity and humidity in the air, which is not an issue next to lakes. Oman isn’t a fan of the sea view, which is so popular with apartment buyers in coastal cities.
“People believe the sea is the most beautiful landscape there is, but it’s the most boring landscape. In daytime it’s a blue spot, and at night it’s a black hole. A lake is a closed body of water so you don’t see only blue or black, you see a green landscape that includes people.”
Nothing more than a gimmick
The marketing experts with whom we spoke admit that a lake has no real role in development projects except as a marketing gimmick. They are harnessing the coronavirus to their sales pitches, and saying that the lockdowns have made nature a popular attraction even among city dwellers. “COVID-19 has taught us that you have the family, the apartment and whatever is under the home,” explains Ben Avraham. “The more you have below the house – the more interesting and fun it will be for you even when you have to stay within 100 meters,” she says, referring to the movement limit imposed during Israel’s strictest lockdown.
A company building a new lakeside neighborhood in Netanya used photos of the nearby winter pond in its promotional material and took potential buyers up into the building so that they could see it from the balcony. The seasonal pond, which spreads to the size of a small and shallow lake in the western part of the city, and is officially and somewhat pretentiously called the Winter Lake Park, is flooded with rainwater in the winter, some of which remains in the summer as well.
Between October and March it attracts water fowl, along with animals that are favorites of nature lovers, such as the common toad, the Levant river frog, and the water flea. In March turtles lay eggs on its banks. About 15 years ago the Agamim (Lakes) neighborhood was build adjacent to it, and now the new Agamim is under construction, several hundred meters away from the lake popular with local tourists.
“A large part of the demand stems from the fact that the neighborhood is near a natural lake,” says Rachel Brizel, VP of marketing and sales at the Ashdar real estate firm. “People like to live in the city, but they also prefer a more rural atmosphere to an urban one. The buyers of apartments in the project include families who moved from Tel Aviv just for that reason. The neighborhood is also near the coastal road and it’s very easy to get to Tel Aviv from there.”
“The apartment buyers are mainly Netanya residents who are upgrading their housing, who are familiar with the area and don’t want to move too far,” says Liat Danino, VP of sales and marketing at Almogim, which is building a high-rise project in which half the apartments promise a view of the lake and the nearby sea. “Others are returning to Netanya after living in small apartments in Tel Aviv and Herzliya. What speaks to them in the neighborhood is this natural resource, the view, the ability to benefit both from an urban atmosphere and from life near nature.”
The artificial lakes are generally the initiative of local authorities, which see them as a way of attracting developers and new residents. That was what motivated the Hadera municipality, which four years ago invested millions of shekels in the construction of the eco-park in the eastern part of the city, with an ecological lake at its center. “The park and the lake were the calling card of this piece of real estate,” says Osnat Saporta, the director of the Hadera municipality and the head of community administration. “Just as in the western part of the city the proximity to the sea significantly increases property values, the lake is supposed to increase the value of properties in the Park neighborhood.”
The lake in the heart of the eco-park is a tribute of sorts to Hadera’s natural history. The city is built in an area that was once a swamp, and its name means “the green” in Arabic. “We wanted to give expression to Hadera’s original nature,” says Saporta. “To this day it has pools of water and swamps, and the lake reflects that in an area of new construction. The lake was constructed in a way that imitates natural ecological systems, with an ecosystem of flora, fauna and microorganisms.”
Saporta says that the decision to build a park with a lake in the center has already proven to be beneficial. “We saw a massive arrival of young families into the neighborhood,” she says. “Some of the neighborhood residents are people from inside the city who are upgrading their housing, and in addition many families are coming from the Sharon region – Netanya, Kfar Sava and Ra’anana. The green surroundings affect the quality of life of the neighborhood residents, and create a lively community life. There are many activities alongside the lake. The young people are seeking a balance. On the psychological level a body of water conveys this balance.”
Nehama Bogin, a real estate appraiser and legal scholar, says that at present the local governments are trying to provide full, holistic services to their residents, which could attract businesses while providing the neighborhood residents with all the options that can be found outside the city – but near home, without their having to go far. “A local government that manages to provide all this inside the city and inside the neighborhoods will certainly manage to attract strong populations as well,” says Bogin.
The Venice project in Eilat’s eastern lagoon is another example of construction next to a body of water. It isn’t a freshwater lake, but an artificial tributary of the sea. The lagoon was built in the early 1990s in order to extend Eilat’s coastline. After it was filled with seawater, black sludge accumulated on the bottom and on the beach – and the swimmers kept their distance. The regional Planning and Construction Committee decided to change the designation of the area, and to build hotels and residences there.
Oman, who planned the project, says that there are quite a few challenges involved in planning buildings so close to the waterline – in the case of the Venice project, only a few meters from the canal. “There are engineering limitations there. Building basements below the water level makes the project much more expensive, because we have to seal the foundation against water. That also happens in projects with groundwater nearby, for example in Bat Yam, when you build a kilometer from the sea.”
A solution to flooding
As opposed to other artificial lakes in the country, the ecological lake being built at present in Shoham is not designed only to attract residents to the neighborhood, but is meant to prevent flooding in case the nearby Nahal Beit Arif overflows its banks, as happened most recently in 2013. “In light of the extreme climate of recent years, a lake is particularly important,” says Dina Promovich, CEO of Shoham’s Economic Corporation.
The lake is part of the Hadarim neighborhood that is now under construction, and will include 1,350 residential units. The park with a lake in the middle will serve not only the neighborhood residents, but is also meant to attract all the residents of Shoham, thanks to sports facilities, a dog park and a café. “Water purification will be done biologically, there will be ornamental fish and appropriate flora in the lake,” says Promovich. “The water won’t be filtered by machines but by means of hydrophobic vegetation.”
The lake is another component in setting the price of the apartment, just like the number of rooms, the specifications, the services offered by the building and so on. Real estate appraiser Israel Yaacov, who specializes in accompanying projects, says that the difference in prices between an apartment with a view of the lake and an identical one without a view can be as high as 10 percent to 20 percent. However, he says, “There’s a limit to the value of an apartment. It could be the most beautiful lake in the country, but there’s an upper red line regarding the price.”
One of the areas in demand for construction in Be’er Sheva is the Park neighborhood, near a lake built by the municipality in the Be’er Sheva River Park. A complex with restaurants, stores, boats for hire, and initiatives such as bike rentals, a tourist train and more are slated for construction on the banks of the lake. The water in the lake will come from the city’s water purification plant.
“As part of the urban planning, it was decided to develop the southern part of the city, which in the past was its neglected back yard,” says Be’er Sheva Mayor Ruvik Danilovich. “The lake was planned and built as an urban oasis, and it will be a center for leisure activities in the Be’er Sheva River Park, which combines principles of sustainability, environmental protection and urbanity. I have no doubt that the proximity of the lake to the new residential neighborhood, the Park neighborhood, has reinforced its attractiveness and brought in construction companies and developers.”
“A lake is an attraction anywhere, but in the dry Negev, even more so,” says Yoram Avisror, VP of purchasing and marketing for a company that sells apartments in the Park neighborhood. “In terms of planning, we tried to build a significant percentage of the apartments with a view of the lake from some angle. That gives added value to the apartment, and in the future it will be possible to get a higher return on it.”
Avisror is also building projects next to the artificial lake to be created in Ashkelon, near a natural pond that fills up with water every winter and attracts animals. The lake and the pond will be part of a large park whose construction has been delayed for several years, but recently got underway, at a cost of 140 million shekels. The Efgad real estate company is now building seven 13-story buildings there. From the upper stories you can see the lake.”
“The residents in the project will be able to cross the road and reach the lake,” says Yael Dekel-Henig, Efgad’s VP of marketing. “When you get home at the end of a work day, you go outdoors and see nature. You don’t come back to asphalt and sidewalks, but to green. Anyone who lives in central Tel Aviv and needs its soot won’t move to Ashkelon. But anyone who is looking for quality of life and wants an open space – this neighborhood will suit them.”
Ashkelon Mayor Tomer Galam says that the cost of maintenance of the lake, about 5 million shekels annually, won’t fall on the residents, but will be covered by payment for the services offered next to it. “In my view, the municipality has to provide the residents with a pleasant residential environment, and in order to finance this, it has to engage in profitable deals,” says Galam. “People ask why a city with a beach needs a lake too, but we see that people want to live in a green neighborhood, rather than dense construction. In the Agamim neighborhood there’s low-rise construction, lawns – and people are moving there from all over the south.”