The Planning Authority has approved plans for the construction of an 11-storey hotel by construction magnate Michael Stivala in Gżira after brushing aside an affidavit and a court judgment showing that he is not the sole owner of the entire site.

The permit was issued following a two-hour hearing in which NGOs and residents expressed their disdain that the site is in a residential area and not a tourist zone.

All three members of the Planning Commissioner, chaired by Mireille Fsadni with Lorinda Vella and Anthony Camilleri as members, voted in favour of the project which the case officer had recommended for approval, despite over 150 objections by residents.

The development (PA 5962/21) proposed by the Malta Developers' Association president is on a site in Triq Moroni and Triq Parisio that directly abuts the gardens of the scheduled Villa Bonici and is characterised by residential buildings.

A garden that once surrounded a century-old farmhouse on the site was cleared and the area was illegally used as a car park for a number of years, before being sanctioned by the Planning Authority in June.

The developer wants to demolish the farmhouse, excavate the plot for three floors of underground parking, a gym, spa, games room, store and indoor pool, a reception, conference room, breakfast area at ground floor, hotel accommodation over nine levels, a restaurant at the 10th floor and a pool deck with recreation area at level 11.

Lawyer Claire Bonello, appearing for NGOs Moviment Graffitti and Din l-Art Ħelwa, questioned how Stivala declared he was the owner of the site when there was a missing share which was still held by owner Carmel Buttigieg who submitted an affidavit that he owned one share of 72.

While the owners of the 71 shares had sold their shares to Stivala, Buttigieg had not done so and there was a court judgment confirming that his share had to be sold by court auction. There were also more than €100,000 in court expenses that Stivala still had to pay after being ordered to do so by the court.

Stivala said he was contesting the court decisions and refused to show proof of ownership when pressed by residents and NGOs.  

“If anyone has a problem, we can go to court. The declaration is correct. This board is here to determine a planning application. Issues of ownership should not be discussed here. I am one of the owners,” he said.  

The commission chairperson cut short the discussion on what could possibly be a false declaration of ownership by quoting the definition of an owner in the Development Planning Act. She said that according to law, an owner could also be a co-owner and ruled that Stivala was one of the co-owners.

Residents' area to be turned into tourist zone

During the rest of the hearing, residents and NGOs who were objecting to the proposal insisted that approving this application would turn a residential area into a tourist zone.

Bonello said that according to PA policies, no hotels could be developed in Sliema except for Qui-si-Sana and Tigne Point.

“It is inconceivable how PA is thinking of granting this permit. The development is in a residential area not a touristic area. There is also a direct impact on Villa Bonici and the former telephone exchange, both grade two scheduled sites,” she stressed.

Tourists are going to be facing our living rooms not any sea views- Objector

“Tourists are going to be facing our living rooms, not any sea views,” said one resident, with another adding: “We have to stop this craziness. We cannot have an 11-storey hotel overlooking our properties. I could cry about this.”

Objectors said the case officer report had many anomalies and that the site notices vanished before the representation period was over. They also criticised the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (SCH) which first ruled that the farmhouse needed to be rebuilt and protected and then failed to object to the proposed hotel.

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar coordinator Astrid Vella interjected, saying that the “SCH completely bailed out” and that “NGOs have had to take over the role of the SCH… and turn to UNESCO for the protection of our buildings.”

She reminded the commission’s members that according to its mission statement, the PA was meant to improve people’s social well-being and quality of life as well as protect the environment.

After a long discussion, Stivala’s architect said her client was willing to change the proposed development into a hostel, raising an uproar among objectors. It did not last long as she later had a change of heart and retracted it.

“We would prefer it as a hotel,” Stivala told the board.

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