New Portelli project threatens Taż-Żejta valley in Gozo

Development in an area of High Landscape Protection next to scenic watercourse frequented by Gozitan families, is being recommended for approval

Another controversial development linked to a company owned by mega-developer Joseph Portelli, this time consisting of 54 apartments overlooking the scenic Taż-Żejta valley in Rabat, Gozo, is heading for approval after receiving the green light of the Planning Authority’s case officer (planning directorate).

A decision on this development due on Wednesday was postponed by the PA’s planning commission to 8 July, following strong objections presented by architect Joanna Spiteri Staines on behalf of residents, including Mr Justice Grazio Mercieca.

The proposed five-storey apartment block for 54 apartments and 36 garages, is being proposed along a watercourse which serves as a recreational area for residents and their children, just 9 metres away from the proposed development.

Thomas Grech, who claims full ownership of the site, is proposing the development. Grech is operations manger of PRA Construction Limited, a company owned by Joseph Portelli, Daniel Refalo and Mark Agius.

The case officer claims the proposed development is within the development zone and does not protrude onto the valley or ODZ land, and follows the building height limitation approved in a zoning application approved in 2011.

Although the site includes an existing, unfinished building approved before the Planning Authority even existed, while being the subject of an enforcement order, a large part of the site is still undeveloped and acts as a buffer zone between residences and the countryside.

The Gozo local plan actually limits development in the area to two floors, an additional three courses and a receded floor, and includes a clause that specifies that the no other policy can override this stipulation.

But as proposed, the development reaches a maximum height of five floors along a steeped gradient along Triq is-Sellum.

Development in breach of policy

And although the area was included in development zones in the infamous extension of building boundaries of 2006, objectors contend that as proposed, the development is still in breach of the local plan and the Design Guidelines issued in 2015.

Notably, according to Policy GZ-EDGE-1, the massing and facades of the new development, which overlooks ODZ areas, should be designed “in such a manner as to respect the traditional edge of settlement skylines.”

The development includes excavations in an area which overlies a buffer zone for a ground water protection zone. Residents warned that the valley collects large amount of rainwater from Xaghra, Xewkija, Victoria and other nearby localities. By building a substation and garages under road levels, flooding problems could be exacerbated.

Noting that the site is located at the edge of development zone, the Environment and Resources Authority lamented the absence of landscaping plans to blend the development into the surrounding rural landscape and serve as an ecological corridor between the valley and the apartment block.

But the case officer dismissed this proposal, noting that the parameters for the development were already set in the zoning application.

The new elevations appear to have ‘satisfied’ the landscaping requirements requested by ERA by adding potted plants to the balconies. And so far, ERA has not been reconsulted, rendering the regulatory body that should be regularly consulted on a site of High Landscape Protection, toothless.

The zoning application approved in 2011 had approved a cul de sac at the end of a road flanking the valley to facilitate new residential developments while imposing a height limitation of three floors “without basement or penthouses” on the site of the existing building.