PA committee grants blessing for five more storeys on Gzira tower

Despite Gzira tower’s marked impact on views to Valletta, Planning Authority’s Design Advisory Committee gives blessing to five additional storeys on the 16-storey tower

The Planning Authority’s design advisory committee (DAC) – the authority’s advisory panel on the design of new buildings – has given its blessing to five additional storeys on the 16-storey tower under construction on the site of the United Garage, in Gzira.

During the past weeks the tower has attracted attention for its marked impact on views to Valletta. The additional five floors proposed a few months after the project was approved, are still awaiting the PA’s final approval.

“The Committee is not averse to the proposal and noted that the additional height will contribute to improve the proportion of the building,” the DAC said in its recommendations.

“However at the same time the scale of the building has certainly made a presence in the skyline and long-range views,” the DAC said, which still described the architectural design as  “commendable”, describing it as “the structural expression of cross bracing on the facade, which gives an interesting dynamic look”.

The DAC is chaired by architect David Mallia and two other members, namely architect Ray Demicoli and art historian Charlene Vella. Demicoli himself is the architect of a number of high-rise projects, including the proposed 40-storey hotel at Fort Cambridge, a new 18-storey building proposed on the site of the Wembley ice cream factory in Gzira and the four towers approved at Mriehel by the Tumas and Gasan Groups.

A spokesperson for the Planning Authority confirmed that the planning directorate requested the applicant to submit photomontages, describing this as a standard procedure in order to assess the extent of visual impact, and to determine whether the development fits within the site and in the wider context. “The photomontages have been submitted and assessed by DAC, who provided a positive recommendation for the project,” the spokesperson confirmed.

The photomontages will only be made available to the public on the PA’s website once the PA’s planning directorate issues a case officer report.

The Gzira project, proposed by ADMG Estates, was the first high-rise development to be approved under the PA’s high-rise policy in 2015. Subsequently, the developers applied to add eight new storeys to an already approved 16-storey tower. But the application was later amended to reduce the additional storeys to five. The additional storeys will make room for five more apartments. 

ADMG is owned by various shareholders, including Sonnet Investments, JPK Investments, Marius Cordina and Paul Darmanin. The directors of the company are Ian Decesare and Marius Cordina.

The tower is being built on a triangular-shaped plot of land fronting Gzira road, Sliema road, and Triq il-Rebħa, which housed the former United Garage building, 150 metres away from the Gzira parish church.

The 16-storey building, consisting of a mix of offices and apartments, was approved in a record four months in August 2015.

In June 2016, the Environment and Resources Authority informed the PA that the project, which would have a total gross floor area of 13,560 square metres, does not require an Environment Impact Assessment.

A project development statement (PDS) for the project had warned of impacts on long-distance views of Valletta, but no full environment planning statement was ever conducted. Photomontages showed that the project as approved would be “moderately visible” from Valletta’s Hastings Garden, but that the visual impact would be expected to rise with the addition of eight floors.

The PA back then also requested no wind studies, obligatory in EIAs for high-rise buildings, before approving the project. The PDS noted that the significant increase in height could potentially have implications for wind circulation around the development and the wind microclimate of the surrounding streets.

But it emerges that no such studies were ever carried out. “Studies on the possible changes to the wind microclimate in the area of the development were not requested by either the Planning Directorate or any of the agencies/departments consulted during the processing of the application,” a spokesperson for the PA had told MaltaToday after the project was approved.

A Sun Path study showed that the surrounding streets are already shaded and that the project would mostly impact surrounding roofs, depending on the time of the day.

The Gzira Tower

• As approved, the 16-storey building will include three basement parking levels accommodating 125 car parking spaces, 695 square metres of landscaped public open space, a cafeteria, overlying office space and 10 residential units.

• The PA board imposed a planning gain of nearly €30,000 for the Gzira Local Council to use in environmental and urban improvement projects, traffic management, green transport and similar projects. The project will include a public plaza, which occupies 62% of the site at ground level. 

• But a part of this open space is roofed over by the tower. In fact the non-roofed open space is slightly less than the 50% of the site dictated by the policy. • A four-storey development was already approved in 2012. The project includes 125 parking spaces, which is 28 more than required by project. The building will include a green wall.

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