Updated | Portelli scales down 13-storey Qormi tower to five

13-storey to go down to five, PA approves excavations for first phase two-storey underground car park

The Planning Authority board has approved parking requirements for an Qormi development after being told that plans for a 13-storey tower had been scaled down to five storeys.

The board approved plans for the excavation of two basement levels for the project fronted by Gozitan entrepreneur Joe Portelli, who in a last-minute move announced plans for the second phase of the project had been reduced to five storeys.

But plans for the development proposed in this second application are not even available to the public, despite the PA’s approval of the first stage of the application today.

Board members Chris  Cilia, NGO representative Annick Bonello, economist Gilmour Camilleri and Qormi Mayor Renald  Falzon still voted against the first phase of the project, consisting of the car park, insisting that they disagreed with the piecemeal approach of approving a first phase of a project without clearly knowing what is in store in the final stage of the project.

The new project will no longer include the obligation to retain half the area as open space, as required by the policy regulating tall buildings.

The 3,800 square metre site fronts Qormi road across the Centreparc shopping complex.

The project will start with the excavation of two parking levels on the undeveloped parcel of land, which currently hosts an old agricultural building that will be retained and restored. The PA’s planning commission had said it was using the procedure was applied to the Centreparc project where excavations were approved prior to the permit for the overlying building. But this could set a precedent for other projects like the DB group’s City Centre in Pembroke, whose developers have also applied separately for the excavation of the site.

The PA’s planning directorate has insisted that without the approval of the excavation separately, the assessment of the design of Phase 2 of the overall project would be prejudiced.

Architect Tara Cassar on behalf of Din l-Art Helwa insisted that the application should be approved in one stage. Documents related to the second phase are not even publicly available on the PA website since the application is still deemed to be “incomplete”.

“We should not commit the site to development without fully knowing what is being proposed in the final stage,” Cassar insisted.

NGO board representative Annick Bonello also expressed her concern.

“What guarantee do we have that plans are not changed again to increase the height of the proposed building?” Bonello asked.

Board member Chris Cilia said he was not comfortable voting for the first stage of a project in the absence of clear details on the second stage.

The project’s lawyer, the former PA chief executive Ian Stafrace, insisted that the site is already developable according to the local plan.   “What is approved  from  the ground floor level upwards is not compromised or conditioned by this application.  This is because the parking requirement will remain irrespective of whether the site is developed.”

The underground excavations will host a car park for 84 cars and 12 motorcycles. Excavations will also see the removal of rubble walls and existing trees. The existing building at the corner between Triq l-Erba Qaddisin and Triq il-Belt Valletta, and the adjacent water reservoir, will be retained and restored. A water-shoot will be dismantled and relocated further down Qormi road, and a reservoir and stone-wall canal on Valletta preserved and restored.

The Qormi local council had objected to the application due to the visual impact of the 13-storey tower on the entrance of Qormi, expressing concern on the increase in traffic in the area.

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