Thursday, March 13, 2014

Drafting of Villa Bonici development brief still unclear

It is not clear whether the development brief for the Villa Bonici development in Sliema will be conducted by the developers or by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

James Debono - Malta Today 12th March 2014

Last month the MEPA board turned down an application for residential development in the Villa Bonici gardens because the local plan stipulates that a development brief should be presented before any development is approved.

Normally it is MEPA that drafts development briefs before the private sector submits proposals based on the parameters set up by MEPA.

But asked whether the brief will be prepared by the developer or by MEPA, a spokesperson for the authority replied that “discussions between Mepa and the land owner are still underway” and “no decision has yet been taken”.

The proposed development consists of 188 apartments in four residential blocks ranging in height between two and 12 floors. The application attracted controversy for its radical redevelopment of the green space, a garden belonging to the stately Villa Bonici, and a unique house in the over-developed Sliema and Gzira area.

But the future of this area could still be in the balance as discussions have already started with the owners to devise a new development brief.

In fact before last month’s refusal, developers had been asked by the Planning Directorate to withdraw the present application.

But the owners have pressed on with the application, which is most likely going to be rejected as it is in breach of a local plan.

The main reason given in the case officer’s report for refusing the development was that no development brief, as stipulated by the North Harbour Local Plan, has been devised for this zone. That means the proposed development falls outside the parameters of acceptable development in the area.

The development refused by MEPA included an eight-storey block would also have an adverse impact on the scheduled villa, due to the short distance between the two buildings.

Villa Bonici was built before 1872 as a country residence for Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonici Ghaxaq. Parts of Villa Bonici in Sliema were scheduled as a Grade 2 property in 2010.

Its present owner, Alfred Gera de Petri, has insisted that Villa Bonici is his family’s private property and that the villa’s location in the middle of urban development gave its owners rights to its monetary value. “Some people, in their unbridled enthusiasm, seem to forget that owners do have rights and that these are also protected by the Constitution and the European Court,” Gera de Petri had told the Times.

The Sliema Residents Association had insisted that the area should be developed for community purposes.

During the public meeting, architect Edwin Mintoff claimed that the applicant had remained in contact with the Directorate and is still awaiting its direction. During the public hearing, Sliema Councillor Michael Briguglio who was accompanied by the Sliema mayor Anthony Chircop, said the council, which is a registered objector, does not object to a Development Brief as long as there is adequate public consultation.

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