An outline permit application proposing the development of a 4-star hotel over Villa Leoni, a building with a grade 2 scheduled facade, has been refused by the Planning Authority board.
Villa Leoni is situated on Main Street and also on Telghet Birkirkara ( which is at a higher level from the main street), St Julian’s.
The outline development permission Proposal “entailed the restoration and internal alterations of existing villa together with construction of additional volume above it. The proposal also includes the construction of new structure overlooking Telghet Birkirkara, and part of the site is being proposal for excavation to include two floors of Parking.” An outline development permission application seeks to gain approval in principle to the proposed development, but specifies reserved matters which need to be included in a full development permit application.
The site currently comprises of a two-storey and a receded floor pre-1968 building and garden. It is located within the Urban Conservation Area of St. Julian’s, having two frontages. The building faces Triq Il-Kbira, while the garden’s boundary wall has a frontage on Telghet Birkirkara. The facade of Villa Leoni is scheduled.
There are a number of committed applications on the site, including the construction of apartments.
The new proposal was for seven floors in total (with the 7th being a bar and pool) on the side facing Telghet Birkirkara, and six floors (with the sixth being listed as for services, and not taking into account a mezzanine floor) on the side facing Triq il-Kbira. The plans, the architect said, are for 73 accommodation rooms. The additional floors on main street will be receded. It is pertinent to note that already approved applications will already see construction on site.
The scheduling is for the facade, however the applicant kept the whole Villa in the plans, the applicant’s architect Edwin Mintoff said.
The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in the case officer’s report, among other things, expressed their reservations on the proposed treatment of the façade on Triq il-Kbira, and the Superintendence notes that the approved façade on Telghet Birkirkara is greatly preferable to the current proposal. “The Superintendence finds the proposed development to be incompatible with the cultural heritage value of the property and objects to this application.”
Architect Mintoff had said that he could not understand this reasoning, given that the villa will be kept, with only minor interventions being made to two columns.
The case officer took note that the proposed interventions on the facade of the building are not endorsed by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage. “In this regard, the proposed interventions would therefore detract from the historical and cultural heritage value of this facade and runs counter to the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED), which seeks to safeguard the cultural heritage by controlling activities which might have an impact on buildings, structures and sites.”
Mintoff said that more conversations with SCH took place, however the case officer noted that the SCH was still objecting.
The case officer also argued that the setback floors of the proposal are not in line with setback floors of another approved application in the same block, which needs to be the case in an urban conservation area, the officer said.
The officer also noted that “the proposed development will have long-distance implications, in that the existing townscape configuration and the impact of development on the skyline are not taken in consideration..
St Julian’s Mayor Albert Buttigieg mentioned that the roads around the building in question are not very big. He also said that the core village which is a UCA is being commercialised. He said that instead of protecting the core village, “we are practically kicking people out.”
He questioned where vehicles will load and unload food and other necessities for the hotel. On Birkirkara Hill, he said that the commitment is for residential and not for commercial. “We need to keep the common good in mind” he said, which goes over and above all else. “It cannot be an elderly person living quietly, have a hotel right next to them in a core village area. We cannot keep breaking our country. People are angry. You need to feel the responsibility.” He argued that one application creates a precedent.
Architect Mintoff responded and said that there are commitments for the UCA. He said that the policy to have commercial is acceptable, and thus the proposal is in line with policy. With regard to loading and unloading, he said that they would not need to go for a permit, adding that such activity will take place within the site.
PA Board Chairman Vince Cassar noted that the proposal incorporates ‘overwhelming development.’ He said he does not have an objection for building on Telghet Birkirkara as long as it is residential, but has reservations on the side of the villa.
The PA Board upheld the refusal recommendation by the case officer.