Case is to be held on Tuesday 12th May at 15:00 hours at MEPA case PA6239/08, tribunal case 62/14
James Debono, Malta Today 6 May 2015
The owners of Villa Bonici in Sliema have presented an application aimed at setting the planning parameters for the development of “a boutique hotel, an old people’s home and residential development” in the existing gardens surrounding the historical villa.
In February 2014, the MEPA board turned down an application for 188 apartments in four blocks, the highest being 12 storeys high.
The development was refused because the local plan stipulates that a development brief should be presented before any development is approved.
In fact the new application proposes “a development brief” on the 11,500 square metre site.
Normally it is MEPA that drafts development briefs before the private sector submits proposals based on the parameters set by the authority. But this case is considered different because the land in question is privately-owned.
But in March last year, a spokesperson for MEPA told MaltaToday that “discussions between Mepa and the land owner are still underway” on who will be drawing up the development brief.
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.
The main reason given last year 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. The development refused by MEPA included an eight-storey block, which 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.
The Sliema Residents Association’s proposal to “preserve” Villa Bonici and its gardens was to change the local plan in such a manner as to develop the property into a public garden and old people’s home.
In 2010 former parliamentary secretary Mario de Marco had warned that this was not possible unless the property was expropriated by the government and its owners compensated.
In its history MEPA has approved 18 development briefs on its own initiative, all of them impacting on public land. This is the first case in which a development brief will be drafted to regulate development on private land.