Too small to be converted to an ODZ residence

An application for additions to an existing farmhouse outside the development zone of Zebbug was turned down by the then Environment and Planning Commission, on the basis that it does not have the minimum habitable area

An application for the “reinstatement, additions and alterations to an existing farmhouse” located outside the development zone of Zebbug was turned down by the then Environment and Planning Commission within the MEPA. In reaching its conclusion, the Commission held that  “the existing building for conversion does not have the minimum habitable area of 100sqm”, which is clearly required by the rural policy.

The Commission went further to state that “the proposal would result in the creation of a new residential unit outside the limits to development, and hence runs counter to Structure Plan policy SET 11 which prohibits the further intensification of urban development in the countryside.” Moreover,  an objection was rsised with respect to the proposed scale and massing, in that “the proposed extension is excessive in relation to the scale and massing of the existing rural structure” entailing “ a significant increase in the footprint of the building and will therefore result in substantial changes to the visual composition of the original building.”  Ultimately, it was highlighted that “the proposal goes beyond the sensitive rehabilitation” of an existing rural structure.

Following the decision, applicant filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Commission. In a strongly worded appeal, applicant made reference to an application for “alterations at ground floor and additions at first floor level” which was granted approval on the basis of the original building had been used for habitation purposes. In this particular case, the relative applicant had submitted a copy of the 1981 electoral register supported by an affidavit stating that building was inhabited by his great grandparents. Consequently, the permit was issued regardless of the fact that the area was less than 100 square metres. Appellant also contended that in his case, the Authority never requested an affidavit which he could easily obtain. On a separate note, the now appellant stated that “this rural structure was built as a rustic dwelling for farmers working the surrounding fields” as could be easily attested by professionals working “in the field”.

In reaction, the Authority considered that in this case, the existing building occupies a net floorspace of 30 square metres which was set to increase to a fully fledged residence. The Authority reiterated that the proposed alterations and additions are unacceptable in principle since these will alter the character of this “rare remaining vernacular building”. As a final remark, the case officer reminded the Tribunal that the permit quoted by appellant refers to a legally established residence whereas in the case under appeal, no such evidence was forthcoming.

In its assessment, the Tribunal immediately observed that the “rehabilitaion and change of use of existing buildings of architectural, historical (not scheduled), vernecular, or of other significance ODZ)” to a dwelling need not be supported by a proof of residence. Having said that, the Tribunal maintained that the existing aggregate floorspace is required to exceed 100 square metres. In appellant’s case, it was evident that the aggregate floorspace totaled 30 square metres and the Tribunal thus concluded that the Commission was correct in its decision.

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Robert Musumeci is a warranted architect and civil engineer. He also holds a Masters Degree in Conservation and a Law Degree