Portelli wins planning approval for Qormi five-story block instead of high-rise

Qormi five-storey block: Mayor votes against, obtains just €10,000 in locality funds as planning gain for traffic impact

The bulky project will have a total floor area of 11,000sq.m over a 2,000sq.m footprint and includes a three-story underground car park for 221 slots
The bulky project will have a total floor area of 11,000sq.m over a 2,000sq.m footprint and includes a three-story underground car park for 221 slots

The Planning Authority has approved a five-storey commercial block on Valletta Road in Qormi, right opposite the Centerpark shopping mall.

The project, proposed by Gozitan property magnate Joe Portelli, originally consisted of a more imposing 13-storey high-rise set over a smaller footprint.

The bulky project will have a total floor area of 11,000sq.m over a 2,000sq.m footprint and includes a three-story underground car park for 221 slots.

Qormi mayor Renald Falzon was the only board member to vote against the project, demanding financial compensation for the locality in view of the traffic impact the project will generate.

The Environment and Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak proposed an ad hoc €10,000 planning gain, which was approved by all board members, including the Qormi mayor. Falzon however remarked that he would have preferred if Axiak had “fired a higher sum”.

On major projects the PA usually imposes a planning gain based on a formula that multiplies each square metre of residential and commercial development by €25 – in this case this would have resulted in a more substantial €275,000. But this sum is usually imposed on high-rise projects and on projects requiring an EIA.

Falzon expressed concern on the project’s traffic impact insisting that urban improvement funds should be used to compensate for the impact of the project. “The area is already jammed.  It can only get worse with this project.”

Jonathan Orlando, from the PA’s planning directorate disagreed with the mayor, insisting that the restoration of an old farmhouse found on the site was a main planning gain of the project. He argued that the project would not result in any lost parking spaces, as the underground car park will cater to the parking demand created by the project.

The project, proposed by Gozitan property magnate Joe Portelli, originally consisted of a more imposing 13-storey high-rise set over a smaller footprint.
The project, proposed by Gozitan property magnate Joe Portelli, originally consisted of a more imposing 13-storey high-rise set over a smaller footprint.

The parking demand allocates one parking space for every 50sq.m of office space.

Architect Anna Maria Attard Montalto argued that the project would upgrade the area, which currently includes stables and mechanic shops, while creating some open space albeit less than what was originally proposed.

The PA had approved the excavation of the site in May before new plans for a low-rise development were presented. The high-rise plans were abandoned after the PA informed Portelli that the proposal was not in line with policy regulating high buildings, as the site area was less than 4,000sq.m as required to accommodate a medium and high-rise development.

Despite the massive scale of the project, the PA’s design advisory committee said it is “not averse to the proposal”.

The ERA also described the reduction in height from the originally proposed high rise “as positive and more in line with the surrounding area”.

The case officer recommending the project for approval described the proposed development as a “coherent building”, acceptable from an aesthetical point of view since “it constitutes a standalone building having no rhythm to follow of a particular streetscape when seen from Qormi Road.”

The vernacular building in Triq l-Erba’ Qaddisin in the corner with Valletta Road and an existing reservoir, will be retained and restored. A photovoltaic system will generate 32,000kWh of electricity annually. No green travel plan is being required because the project was deemed to provide sufficient parking spaces. 

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