The Planning Authority has approved plans for a 12-storey extension to the Bay Street Hotel on land leased from the Augustinian Order in Paceville, backtracking on its intention to throw out the proposal.

The application had been headed for rejection after the PA board indicated its opposition at a hearing in December, amid concerns over its impact on the Grade 2 scheduled Augustinian Priory and the St Rita Chapel.

Board members had also highlighted the impact on residents - particularly as the project is within a residential buffer zone - and traffic generation, and the lack of a masterplan to guide development in Paceville.

But at a hearing on Thursday, the board voted by seven to four to approve the application after project architect Paul Camilleri presented tweaks to address these concerns, while insisting the development was in line with local plan policy.

Tables and chairs were dropped from the proposed public plaza and improvements made to a planned drop-off zone for buses and taxis, to reduce traffic concerns.

Watch: ‘Paceville masterplan was dropped for commercial interests’ - KTP head

The architect argued that the St Rita Chapel itself constituted a buffer between the residential and commercial zones, and that residents would benefit from the hotel’s facilities.

He also said the project’s impact would be much lower than that of others in the area, or than a hypothetical residential or office-space development on the same site.

Although several board members rejected these arguments and reiterated the concerns raised in the December hearing, the architect’s submissions were ultimately enough to sway the board.

The architect’s submissions were ultimately enough to sway the board

Voting against were PA board chairman Vince Cassar, Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak, NGO representative Annick Bonello and St Julian’s local councillor Edgar Montanaro.

Government representative Clayton Bartolo and Opposition representative Marthese Portelli both voted in favour.

The plans had previously come in for criticism from the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage as well as the Church Environment Commission, which was asked by Archbishop Charles Scicluna to look into the matter.

Both expressed concern the hotel’s scale would dwarf the nearby priory and diminish its heritage value by further taking away from its original context.
A separate application for the restoration of buildings’ façades and external areas was submitted last October.

The PA case officer had originally played down these concerns, noting that the project would not impose any changes to the existing skyline, due to the surrounding buildings.

The case officer also said the introduction of the public plaza at ground level would improve views of the historic building.

Moreover, the design of the façade was said to “provide a fluid shape which allows the sun to penetrate to the ground floor”.

The basis of the recommendation for approval was the height limitation adjustment policy for hotels, which allows hotels extra floors over and above the local plan’s height limits.

The Augustinian Order, which leased the land for the development, has justified the move as a way of funding its religious, social and educational programmes.