The Malta Independent 13 December 2018, Thursday

PA Board indicates that it will refuse 138-room hotel adjacent to Bay Street complex

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 6 December 2018, 13:00 Last update: about 7 days ago

The Planning Authority Board has indicated its intention to refuse the application for a new 138-room four-star hotel adjacent to Bay Street, as Board members voted against the proposal, which was proposed to be approved by the Case Officer.

The final vote will be taken in a later sitting, as per policy whenever the board indicates its intention to go against the case officer’s recommendation, allowing the applicant time to address any concerns which were raised by the board. Issues relating to a blank wall, as well as infrastructure issues were highlighted as their main concerns.

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The site is proposed to have six underground levels for parking, which will also house a gym, sauna and pool, a conference room and games room. It will also rise to 11 levels above ground, which includes the ground floor. In total, there will be 231 car parking spaces.

The site lies on the southern flank of St George’s Bay in Paceville, on the lower grounds at the front part of St Rita Chapel/St Augustine Convent which are Grade 2 scheduled buildings. It is bound on the back side with a blank party wall of the entertainment and cinema complex and on the other side by residential villas.

The application caused quite some controversy.  Archbishop Charles Scicluna had asked the Church’s Environment Commission to look into the deal. The environment commission, in their report on 5 October, recommended that the plans be revisited because “the development is contrary to the Floor Area Ratio policy; The site is not amenable to the development of a tall building (i.e. a building higher than 10 floors. A twelve-storey façade overlooking Upper Triq Santu Wistin is excessive and badly impinges on nearby residents and users of the street. The proposed twelve-storey building is excessively close to the priory which is a scheduled Grade 2 building,” it had said.

The provincial of the Augustinian order, which owns the land in question, has defended the project. Fr Leslie Gatt had said that the income from the deal would help the order invest in its religious, social and educational efforts. He added that the money would also go towards the restoration and upkeep of several historic buildings owned by the order, which are part of the country’s heritage.

A separate application for the renovation of the chapel and convent is also in the works, it was said during the board meeting. The open space of the development is towards the residential area, while the development itself is on the side of the entertainment hub, the Planning Directorate’s representatives said during the Planning Board meeting. In terms of long-distance viewpoints, the Directorate highlighted that the proposal will not have any changes to the existing skyline.

With respect to the Grade 2 building, a square will be created “enhancing the pedestrian experience” the Planning Directorate representative said, from the side of Sqaq Lourdes.

Swieqi Mayor Noel Muscat spoke during Thursday’s meeting, calling the situation ridiculous, highlighting the density in the area, and the accessibility issues to that area. “I don’t know where you imagine human and road traffic will go through to reach that area.”

He asked how people would reach the parking area proposed in the project. The Mayor also highlighted the number of other applications thus far approved and still proposed directly affecting this area, particularly mentioning the db Group project, Villa Rosa and Pendergardens, highlighting a number of infrastructural issues. “These projects will kill Swieqi. There are three exits from Swieqi to Regional roads, one of which is under the bridge which is already densely populated. How will accessibility for residents in Swieqi be improved?”

“It is out of proportion, we are going mad.”

Another resident said that the PA is not paying attention to residents, only to commercial interests. He highlighted that he could not understand how the Planning Authority can consider a hotel as a buffer between the residential and commercial area.

The architect highlighted that the chapel and the convent are the buffers to the residential zone, adding that cars do not need to go through the residential part to go onto the site, saying they can go up Sqaq Lourdes, where the entrance would be located. He highlighted that this project is much smaller than the other projects the mayor mentioned.

Asked about where coaches can unload passengers for the hotel, the architect in front of Bay Street. He also said that they could use minivans instead of coaches. “Most tourists come in small cars and minibuses today.”

PL MP Clayton Bartolo, who sits on the board said that it is a failure of this board since there is no Master Plan as yet. PA Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg said that Infrastructure Malta is working on a transport plan for the area.

Board Chairman Vince Cassar said that there is the Grade 2 building, and also expressed concern for residents. He also highlighted tables and chairs around the Grade 2 building, however, the architect said it is not an issue to remove them.

ERA Chairman Victor Asciak agreed with Cassar, while also highlighting issues with traffic generation. Both men highlighted the lack of a master plan for the area as well.

The local council representative on the board said that this project would be another nail in the quality of life of the residents in the area.

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