The developer of a controversial Paola building had a parking fee slashed dramatically by the Planning Commission on Friday.

The Planning Authority imposed a €110,000 fee on the developer in January, for not being able to provide sufficient parking space to complement the approved development of 17 studio apartments in Triq Bormla and Triq il-Qalb ta' Ġesu.

The fee, which serves as a contribution to the Urban Improvement Fund, is passed on to the locality's council to use for the town's development and serves to make up for the parking spaces the developer fails to provide.

But the developer, Silvan Mizzi, argued that since the street falls within a student priority area, regulations allow for the payment for each parking space to be half of the norm.

The Planning Commission accepted his request and reduced the fee to €35,000, which is less than a third of the fee that was initially imposed. 

Urban Improvement Fund fees are used by the PA to invest in community initiatives, including ones proposed by local councils. 

'Fee should have been even higher' - mayor

Paola mayor Dominic Grima protested the decision, saying he had expected a higher than normal fee because the development will be a burden on the council as it will increase the population density in the area and increase traffic management issues.

But development architect Maria Schembri Grima argued that parking fees were halved several times before in student priority areas in Msida and also in Paola, and it would be unfair for her client to be treated differently.

The commission agreed and upheld the request.

"Residents are being penalised on so many levels," council architect Jesmond Mugliett complained.

"Not only is the development going to take away their parking spaces and increase their challenges, they will now have to settle for a much lower fee meant to be used to improve their quality of life."

Council wants student priority area changed

The development (PA2405/22) made headlines this week after initial, incorrect claims that the development would be rising to five storeys on Triq Bormla - a road lined with two-storey townhouses. In reality, the project will rise to five floors on Triq Qalb ta' Ġesu, on the other side of the development, with the Triq Bormla side having its facade retained with a recessed floor above it. 

Councillors and residents have however expressed concern that the character of the relatively quiet neighbourhood in Paola will be significantly altered by having scores of studio apartments available for students.

Those properties will create huge parking, rubbish, congestion and air quality problems, they fear. 

The PA allows for studio apartments to be built in this area because it has been designated as a student priority area due to the MCAST campus close by. 

But the Paola council is planning to hold talks with the authorities, to change that designation. 

The council also said it will seek the permit's entire revocation, because it will allow the building of a penthouse on Triq Bormla, an urban conservation area with an unspoilt row of traditional townhouses.  

It is also concerned about the quality of the planned building, which sidestepped internal yards by lacking proper demarcation of bedrooms and living areas. The apartments, the council said, would get their natural lighting and ventilation from a single aperture on the facade.

But Schembri Grima argued it was extremely unfair for the council to object to the project now when the permit is already approved and the developer took on great bank loan commitments. The council should have objected during the designated period, she said.

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