Developer gets 11-storey hotel permit as angry residents lament Gzira’s change to ‘Stivalaland’

Developer Michael Stivala was granted the green light to develop an 11-storey hotel in a residential area next to Villa Bonici gardens

Photomontage of the proposed hotel rising above Villa Bonici's garden, which was granted a building permit by the PA
Photomontage of the proposed hotel rising above Villa Bonici's garden, which was granted a building permit by the PA

The Planning Authority has approved an 11-storey hotel by Malta Developers Association President Michael Stivala in Gżira as numerous residents expressed outrage at the decision.

During the meeting Stivala lamented that other hotels approved in the area had not solicited the same opposition directed at his proposal.

Residents accused him of “destroying" their lives and lamented the transformation of Gżira into ‘Stivalaland’.

The 11-storey hotel will replace an old farmhouse standing between lower and upper Parisio Street at the intersection with Triq Moroni. The hotel is being proposed in a part of Sliema zoned as a ‘residential area’ in the local plan, where hotels are not allowed.

But the case officer who recommended approval invoked a policy on ‘consolidation and regeneration initiatives’ that gives the PA flexibility in assessing tourism development if it is compatible with the surrounding neighbourhood.

The local plan, quoted by lawyer Claire Bonello, who represented residents, specifically states that hotels in Sliema should not spread into surrounding residential areas.

A large number of angry residents attending the meeting expressed concern on the deterioration to their quality of life from noise that will come from the hotel. Some residents complained that they are already subjected to noise from a lido partly owned by Stivala on the Strand located 200m away.

Residents also raised concerns on the stability of the bedrock in the area fearing the collapse of their homes.

They also denounced the illegal works carried out in the past just next to Villa Bonici’s garden walls, which transformed a yard into a car park. The illegal works which “prejudiced the integrity of the garden wall” were also denounced by the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage but these were later sanctioned by the Planning Authority after Stivala presented plans to stabilise the rock section underlying the garden wall.

“We can easily change Gzira’s name in to Stivalaland,” another resident said as he complained about never-ending construction in the area.

“At this rate, we are being elbowed out of our home and are being forced to find another place to live,” a resident lamented.

Stivala’s architect, Maria Grazia Schembri, who also chairs the Building and Construction Authority, argued that the area already includes a number of hotels and therefore the case officer was correct in applying the flexibility policy which allows hotels whenever they fit with the surrounding area.

She also pointed out that any works conducted on the site will have to be supervised. She also pointed out that the developer could have applied for two more floors according to the height policy for hotels and had instead chosen to add only one extra floor over the area’s height limitation.

Asrid Vella from Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar questioned the impact of the development on the scheduled Villa Bonici gardens.

Lawyer Claire Bonello presented an affidavit by Carmelo Buttigieg declaring his ownership of a divisible part of the site in question, challenging Stivala’s declaration in the planning application form that he is the owner of the entire site of the new hotel.

Buttigieg, who was present for the meeting also presented an appeal's court sentence issued in October confirming his claim.

Stivala insisted that this is a civil dispute with no bearing on the planning merits of the site.

Board member Lorinda Vella lamented that the objectors should have raised this matter before the public hearing. But Bonello insisted that declaring the correct ownership was the responsibility of the applicant not the objector.

Stivala, who insisted that the ownership declaration was correct, said the merits of this case should be settled in court not in a planning hearing.

Acting chairperson Mireille Fsadni referred to the law which states that any of the co-owners of a site can declare ownership and therefore ruled that Stivala was correct when declaring owning the site.

The approval of the new hotel was facilitated by a change of heart on the part of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage: back in September 2021, it had “grave concern” at the intensity of the hotel with its “very considerable heights and volumes, which will bear onto the scheduled gardens of Villa Bonici”. The inevitable demolition of the existing farmhouse would also “generally not be viewed favourably by the Superintendence”.

But at seeing the photomontages of the proposed hotel, the Superintendence described the proposal “as acceptable in principle” since it incorporates suitable terracing away from the scheduled gardens. 

One of the conditions proposed by the case officer is that of a tripartite agreement between the applicant, the local council, and the Planning Authority for the “implementation and maintenance of the pedestrian passageway and a storm-water culvert” linking upper and lower Parisio street