The Malta Independent 24 April 2019, Wednesday

Hugo Chetcuti empire stretches to Balluta, but will he succeed where others have failed?

Rachel Attard Sunday, 21 January 2018, 10:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

One of the last opulent villas remaining in Balluta, known as 'Villa Priulli', is poised to become part of the Hugo Chetcuti entertainment and hospitality empire.

The Malta Independent in Sunday is informed that Chetcuti has signed a promise of sale to purchase the villa for around €5 million. His last major development was Hugo's Boutique Hotel in St Julian's.

Chetcuti's intentions for the Balluta villa are not yet clear although he has declared on Facebook that he wants the villa to house "luxurious suites". Pressed by a Facebook friend to retain "the most unique features" of this "one of a kind" villa, he promised that he "definitely" will.

And herein is the real beginning of the story.

In 2016, the current owners of the villa, Dutch property entrepreneurs, had applied for "alterations and additions to existing dilapidated house including some demolition works, construction of swimming pool and general restoration works".

Only last May, the Planning Authority refused the application on five separate counts. First, the proposal did not comply with the provisions of the Health and Sanitary Regulations, whereby "every dwelling, except corner dwellings, with a depth of more than fifteen metres, requires a back yard equivalent to at least six metres width or to the entire plot width if such plot width is less than six metres".

Secondly, the proposed development ran counter to the Development Control Design Policy which specifies "that only awnings may be considered as additional elements to the front and back façade of a setback floor and furthermore the design and materials used are to be compatible with the remainder of the building and the general character of the area. The proposal therefore also runs counter to ... the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development which aims to protect and enhance the character and amenity of urban areas".

Thirdly, the proposed development was deemed "incompatible with the urban design and environmental characteristics of the Urban Conservation Area. It would not maintain the visual integrity of the area and so does not comply with Urban Objectives 2 and 4 of the Strategic Plan". Fourthly, it also "runs counter to the provisions of policies ... of the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015 which specify that for development in UCAs due regard is to be given to existing gardens and lesser depths than the maximum 30 metres may be requested so as to safeguard gardens. The proposal therefore also runs counter to the Urban Objective 3 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development which aims to protect and enhance the character and amenity of urban areas".

Finally, it would "irreversibly alter the character and architectural homogeneity of a Grade 2 listed building, running counter to Structure Plan Policy UCO7 in terms of SPED paragraph 1.13. The proposal would therefore detract from the historical value of this important building and so it detracts from Thematic Objective 8 of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development which aims for the safeguarding and enhancement of cultural heritage."

There is a further complication. The structure of the property is known as "Masonry spandrels" (xorok) which conditions the development and alterations to the property. Development on such properties would require a method statement so as to ensure that the development would not prejudice the stability of the scheduled property.

The last and perhaps most puzzling aspect of Hugo's interest in the property is the financial one.

As stated, the promise of sale for the development of "luxurious suites" carries a price tag of €5 million. Sources in the property sector gave an estimate to The Malta Independent on Sunday that around another €1.5 million would be required for the refurbishment, bringing the total price tag up to €6.5 million.

From the refused application, and assuming that a new one will somehow be accepted, no more than four "luxurious suites" could be fitted into the property.

In this scenario, one has to question how an investment of €6.5 million could be recouped and profit made on the income from four suites in any reasonable amount of time.


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