PA set on refusing 69 new villas at Smart City

Case officer had recommended approval of the villas which exceeded the amount of residential space allowed in the 2009 masterplan, but Planning Board unanimously agrees the application is premature because a masterplan aimed at increasing the residential component in Smart city still has to be approved

Smart City (File photo)
Smart City (File photo)

The Planning Authority intends to refuse an application for the erection of 69 new villas on a 67,000sq.m plot of land to the north of Smart City, below the St Rocco Fort on the Xgħajra coastline. 

The reason being that their approval would have exceeded the amount of residential space allowed in the masterplan approved in 2009 by 2770 sq.m. 

Since the case officer was recommending approval, the board will be taking a final decision to overturn this recommendation in the next sitting as happens in any case where the board disagrees with the case officer.

Board chairman Emanuel Camilleri described the application for the villa development as  premature because applicant is “putting the cart before the horse” because an another application to change the original  masterplan by increasing the residential and commercial components of the project  is still pending.  

If approved the new masterplan would increase the residential areas by 85,000sq.m to reach 148,000sq.m or 40% of the project’s total floor area.

More villas but visual impact improved

The application discussed by the board this morning would have increased in the number of villas from the 51 approved in 2009 to 69. This was mainly due to the extension of the villa area on plots previously allocated for commercial development.

However, a reduction in height of the proposed villas from a maximum of 14m to 10m has resulted in a reduced visual impact, as confirmed by photomontages comparing the massing approved back in 2009 with that being proposed now.

But the new residential development would have still dominated coastal views when seen from Fort Ricasoli, Fort Rinella and Fort St Rocco.

The villas were proposed on four rows, the front row facing the sea rising to 5m, then 10m for the second row, and stepped down again to 5m in the third row and rising again to 10m on the last row.

The layout was designed in a way which ensures that 90% of the villas will enjoy unobstructed sea views.

Each villa was be built on plots ranging from 400 to 900sq.m, with buildings covering at least 45% of the plot. An area of 7,000sq.m facing the coastline in front of the villa plots, was to be turned into a promenade, apart from a 10,000sq.m landscaped area around the Fort St Rocco.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage had issued its clearance for the development because the line of sight of the fort toward the open seas will be retained and the ditch of will not be impacted. Moreover, the layout of the new buildings will follow the existing contours.

Changing goalposts for Smart City

The residential development was already foreseen in a masterplan approved in for the entire Smart City project in 2009 which provided the parameters for the development, first billed as a futuristic ‘internet city’ by then PN minister Austin Gatt but already having a substantial real estate component.

That outline permit established the layout and location of plots within Smart City and the dominant land use and maximum height within each plot, capping the gross floor area of residential development at 62,730sq.m.

After 2013, the new Labour administration allowed changes to the commercial components of the development, with a permit for the Shoreline apartment complex and mall now having utilised 41,000sq.m of residential development. That leaves only 21,630sq.m that can be used at Smart City for residences. The approval of the new villas with a floor space of 24,400sq.m would therefore have been in excess of the 2009 masterplan limits.

But the case officer still recommended approval because the new development is well within the total 313,320sq.m allocated of Smart City’s three components – ICT, commercial and residential.

The PA is currently considering changes to the masterplan proposed in 2022 to increase the amount of residential space.