Nationalist Party councillors in Mellieħa are seeking to reverse a recent controversial decision to issue a permit for the construction of an eight-storey hotel in a residential area on the village’s outskirts.
They are also requesting the government to “return” the plot of land earmarked for this hotel, for the construction of a community centre. Such a demand was made in the wake of the fact that the site was in the council’s hands through an encroachment agreement which the government terminated in 2015.
The move, however, will be nipped in the bud unless it is endorsed by the Labour councillors who command a one-seat majority.
Though the council had objected when the development application was put to a vote during a Planning Authority board hearing earlier this month, Mellieħa mayor John Buttigieg was non-committal when Times of Malta sought his position on the motion.
Mr Buttigieg, who was in Adenau, Germany, on council-related business, said he was yet to see a copy of the motion.
“The merits of the motion will be considered by the council, and if there is agreement we will forge ahead,” the Mellieħa mayor said.
A fortnight ago the Planning Authority approved a development application by J. Portelli Projects for an eight-storey hotel next to the Valyou Supermarket. The project also comprises 120 residential units, shops and an underground parking.
Spread over a footprint of 3,600 square metres, the development had been recommended for refusal as it was in breach of the height limitation policy for the area. Yet, the PA board controversially overruled the case officer’s recommendation on the basis of a separate policy which allowed a degree of flexibility when deciding such applications.
Permit was approved by nine votes to four
The permit was approved by nine votes to four, with those against being board chairman Vince Cassar, Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak, NGO representative Annick Bonello and Mellieħa mayor John Buttigieg.
On the other hand the government representative on the board and former Labour Mellieħa councillor, MP Clayton Bartolo, voted in favour. Opposition representative Marthese Portelli was not present.
PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg did not take part in the vote citing a conflict of interest in view of allegations made towards him by the applicant.
During the meeting, PN MP and former Mellieħa mayor Robert Cutajar vehemently opposed the proposal while pointing out that in 2009, during his mayorship, the land in question had been handed to the council through an encroachment agreement. Such a concession was made on condition that the land had to be used as a park and ride facility.
Nonetheless, for the long term, the council had already expressed its wish to develop this site for a community project. Though the Labour-led council, which took office in 2013, had endorsed such a plan, in 2015 the Labour government thought otherwise as the concession was terminated.
Instead, the government opted to sell the land by auction, which was divided in two plots. Though the selling price is not known, only offers above €2.5m for each were allowed.
In their motion, signed by minority leader Hilary Fenech, Emvin Bartolo and Patrick Cutajar, the PN councillors claim that the hotel will ruin “another” part of Mellieħa, goes against the local plan, would constitute an eyesore and would be incompatible with the surroundings. The motion notes that PN councillor Joseph Gauci also endorsed the move but was unable to sign it as he was abroad.
Apart from this proposal, the council has recently objected to a separate application concerning the Panorama Hotel, which is close to the village core and overlooking Għadira Bay.
The applicant is seeking approval for the construction of two additional storeys. The application, which is still pending, has prompted objections from residents amid concerns of over-development and that it would dwarf the nearby parish church.
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