A planning appeals board has paved the way for the development of 30 residential units in the garden of a 250-year-old palazzo in Għaxaq, overturning a previous decision.
The project, spread over an area of just over 4,000 square metres, initially sought an outline permit for the construction of 18 residential units on each of three floors in the garden of Palazzo Giannin, with underlying garages, for private use.
But the Planning Appeals Board deemed this as “excessive” and downsized the project from 54 apartments to a maximum of 30.
The application for this development in Triq il-Ħatem, Għaxaq, dates back to February 2004.
The case officer had recommended refusal, though the Natural Heritage Advisory Committee concluded there was no objection to the proposed application on grounds of natural heritage.
The committee noted that Palazzo Giannin’s large garden, which dates back to the British period, contains several old trees, some of which are protected.
It recommended that a full tree inventory of the garden should be carried out prior to development, indicating the species and approximate age of all trees.
Mepa’s Development Control Commission had turned down the application in May 2008 since it considered the garden to be of cultural, historical and architectural value that merited scheduling.
The applicant submitted an application for the proposal to be reconsidered, which was also turned down in January 2010.
The applicant contended that although the development was not physically connected to the existing villa, the proposed development would enhance it.
A large portion of the garden adjacent to the villa will not form part of the proposed development.
However, Mepa maintained the proposal “is an extensive urban development, which will eliminate the garden and transform it into a residential project which cannot be considered as respecting the character of the historical villa”.
A fresh proposal was submitted proposing six blocks of flats with a height ranging from two to five floors. Although an improvement, it was still considered unacceptable.
Even Mepa’s Heritage Advisory Committee and the Integrated Heritage Management objected to the proposed development.
The Planning Appeals Board said it had reviewed Mepa’s policies extensively, which stated it would consider proposals to develop private gardens which merit protection “only after an assessment of the garden is carried out to the satisfaction of Mepa, to determine the importance and value of the garden and its features and whether development may be permitted”.
It noted that the temporary provision schemes for Għaxaq and Bir-id-Deheb earmarked parts of the site for the development of terraced houses.
On the basis of this, the appeals board overturned the original decision and gave the green light to develop a maximum of 30 apartments spread over three isolated blocks on three levels, excluding the penthouses. It said the garden’s original assets should be respected and the frontline of the building receded from the pavement.
The appeals board directed Mepa to issue an outline development permit and said issues related to the site, design, means of access, landscaping and external appearance should be discussed at full development application stage.
[Times of Malta, 30 October 2011]
The applicant was assisted by Dr. Joanne Vella Cuschieri of MBVC Advocates.