PA approves lower Verdala hotel along with 85 new apartments

The Planning Authority has approved the demolition of the former Verdala hotel, an eyesore now set be replaced by a slightly lower hotel

The existing Verdala hotel eye sore will be demolished and will make way for a new hotel and apartment complex that will be two and eight metres lower than the present structure.
The existing Verdala hotel eye sore will be demolished and will make way for a new hotel and apartment complex that will be two and eight metres lower than the present structure.

The Planning Authority has approved the demolition of the former Verdala hotel, an eyesore now set be replaced by a slightly lower hotel and two, eight-storey apartment blocks slightly lower than the present structure, minimizing its visual impact from the most sensitive viewpoints.

But the new development, proposed by AX Holdings, will not only include a 5-star hotel with 40 guestrooms and 17 serviced apartments fully located outside development zones, but also a private residential complex spread over the two blocks for 85 apartments and four retail units.

The residential blocks will be 5m higher than foreseen in development guidelines issued in 2015, and four floors higher than the local plan’s height limitation.

All board members, except NGO representative Annick Bonello, voted in favour of the development. Bonello insisted that the disturbed state of existing ODZ (outside development zone) land should not serve as a pretext to develop it. While welcoming the improvement in the visual impact, she expressed concern on the massing of the development nearer to the residential areas. Bonello also expressed concern on the impact of excavations on the geological stability of the area.

Rabat mayor Sandro Craus, who voted for the project, expressed concern on the traffic impact of the project, especially during the construction phase, warning of a “disaster” in Triq Borg Olivier if the situation is not managed well. He also expressed concern that the hotel itself will generate traffic, but welcomed the reduction in the height of the project.

Resident Chris Bugeja expressed his concern that residents in Triq ir-Rghajja will be overshadowed by the height of the new development in an area which is presently not developed.

ERA chairman Victor Axiak argued that there was no environmental reason against approval, considering the existing commitments in the area and that no additional ODZ land will be taken by the project over and above what is already disturbed and committed for development.

The developers will still have to submit a full development application before the final approval of the project.

The Virtù Heights Suites controversially approved on the ridge 20 years ago, will continue to operate as an annex to the hotel, comprising another 19 suites. Project architect Christian Spiteri insisted that the project will represent a decrease in massing, with the development’s 24,000sq.m floorspace distributed across three blocks.

The new hotel, located in a separate block, will have eight levels of accommodation, increasing from three to seven storeys along Triq Ir-Rgħajja to a maximum 21m height from the highest street level.

But at the rear – overlooking the ridge – the hotel will rise to eight storeys, reaching a maximum 26.6m height from ground level.

The two apartment blocks will have a similar height as the hotel, one bordering Triq Santa Katerina rising to seven storeys (21m) and other overlooking the ridge rising to 8 storeys (26m).

In its assessment of the project the Environment and Resources Authority noted that due to a larger volume and bigger site coverage the new development will still exert a visual impact from most of the mid-range and panoramic views. “However, when comparing the proposed replacement building against the existing baseline that consists of one massive building, ERA notes that the impact of the proposal on the prevailing landscape character would be marginally reduced.”

The development covers an area of approximately 10,374sq.m with a frontage on four streets – Triq Inguanez, Triq Santa Katarina, Triq San Bastjan, and Triq Ir-Rgħajja. 42% is outside development zones. This area is enclosed within the existing boundary of the Grand Hotel Verdala complex, which is delineated by a wall.

Part of the area is also already built up, including the Virtù Heights Suites block which occupies 30% of the ODZ area.

The EIA concluded that the major negative impacts of the project consist in geological impacts arising from the excavation of this very sensitive site and changes to the site’s geo-morphological features. But the EIA concluded that the project will represent a minor or moderate visual improvement over the present development.               

The other negative impact is the increase in traffic noise emissions, arising from the increase in week day and Saturday traffic flows along Triq Inguanez and Triq Santa Katerina.

The hotel opened its doors in 1971. It was sold by the government in 1994 to developer Angelo Xuereb, who planned to redevelop it into a five-star resort with a golf course on the slopes below. But the Planning Authority turned down attempts to build the golf course amid strong environmental opposition.

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