Gżira: 11-storey hotel to rise next to scheduled Villa Bonici garden

Developers have presented photomontages showing the visual impact of an imposing 11-storey hotel proposed instead of an old farmhouse next to Villa Bonici in Sliema

Developers have presented photomontages showing the visual impact of an imposing 11-storey hotel proposed instead of an old farmhouse next to Villa Bonici in Sliema.

The proposed hotel will replace a dilapidated farmhouse building and what was until some time ago an adjacent ‘garden’. The property borders the privately owned Villa Bonici gardens that are scheduled.

The garden that formed part of the farmhouse has already been turned into a car park, which was regularised by the Planning Authority in June.

The photomontages also depict a public staircase linking the upper and lower part of Parisio Street with the hotel stepping up from seven floors adjacent to residential blocks along Parisio street to 11 storeys with the four top storeys being receded.

Last year the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage had expressed “grave concern” at the intensity of development proposed on a site between Moroni and Parisio streets which abuts the scheduled gardens of Villa Bonici, and in the immediate vicinity of the historic telephone exchange, also scheduled at Grade 2.

The cultural heritage watchdog warned that the development’s “considerable heights and volumes” will be overbearing on the scheduled gardens of Villa Bonici.

The development is being proposed by hotelier and Malta Developers Association President Michael Stivala instead of a dilapidated vernacular building and an adjacent field that separates the lower and higher part of Parisio street.

The architect of the project is Maria Grazia Schembri, who also chairs the state appointed Building and Construction Agency.

In June, the Planning Authority had approved Stivala’s application to ‘sanction’ rock excavation works and use of part of the site earmarked for the hotel, as a temporary parking facility.

The SCH had initially warned that the unauthorized clearing and subsequent excavations and rock-cutting had prejudiced the stability of the garden wall which is an integral part of the scheduled Villa Bonici and had strongly objected to the sanctioning.

But subsequently the same Superintendence had issued its clearance after the developer presented a works method statement proposing measures for the consolidation and stabilisation of the rock section underlying the garden wall.

When issuing clearance for these works, the SCH reiterated its concern about unauthorised works that had “demolished and cleared away a walled garden” next to the old house.

“This unauthorised demolition of the garden prejudices the cultural heritage value of the surviving house, which is currently subject to the application for the redevelopment of the site,” the Superintendence warned.

However, the Superintendence still remains favourable “to efforts towards the recreation or reconstruction of this garden, and the recreation of its link to the surviving house”.

The SCH concluded that it had no objection for the use of the site as a carpark for three years, following which the original garden should be “restored back and recreated” unless the site is redeveloped into a hotel.  In that case the SCH is insisting that any permit should take “cognisance of the cultural heritage value of the site and its integration with the proposed development after discussion and agreement with the Superintendence”.

In 2017, the PA had approved an application by Stivala himself, to remove a schemed stairway originally proposed in 1961 that had been planned to link the upper and lower parts of Parisio Street, and rezone the area as a residential one.

The permit still envisaged a pedestrian link between lower and upper Parisio Street which was to be developed at the developers’ expense. The staircase has now been re-included in the latest visuals of the project.