Gaffarena gets permit for Sliema apartment block

Entrepreneur Marco Gaffarena has been awarded a permit to build seven apartments and two garages instead of a corner townhouse and a shop in Sliema

Marco Gaffarena bought the two-storey Sliema townhouse in 2013 and was then given the shop beneath as part-payment for the controversial Valletta expropriation in 2015
Marco Gaffarena bought the two-storey Sliema townhouse in 2013 and was then given the shop beneath as part-payment for the controversial Valletta expropriation in 2015

Marco Gaffarena, the property entrepreneur implicated in the Old Mint Street scandal, has been awarded a permit to build seven apartments and two garages instead of a corner townhouse and a shop in Manuel Dimech Street, Sliema.

The redevelopment was approved thanks to new policy guidelines which give the Planning Authority flexibility in establishing building heights in the Urban Conservation Area.

In this case the development will be one storey higher than allowed by the local plan.

In May 2013 Gaffarena bought the two-storey Sliema townhouse. Then in April 2015 he was given the shop beneath the house as part-payment for the controversial expropriation of his 50% ownership of a Valletta palazzo on Old Mint Street which housed government offices.

The controversial expropriation and values which enabled him to acquire new property, became the subject of a National Audit Office inquiry and an investigation by the Internal Audit and Investigations Department, that led to the resignation of then planning parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon.

The Government Property Division had valued the shop at €65,000, because it was not a freehold property. Yet the rights to property ownership were due to expire in the next year. The shop was requested by Gaffarena since it was government-owned and was beneath the property he had acquired, as a part-payment for the expropriation of the Old Mint Street share he owned.

In 2007, Gaffarena – who was not yet the owner – had filed a development application to demolish the building to construct apartments with underlying garages. MEPA refused the permit in 2012.

The latest application proposes the internal demolition of the existing townhouse, the retention of the entrance hall, the restoration of both front and side elevation, and the addition of two floors and a set back floor. 

The property presently consists of an imposing corner townhouse, built in an eclectic architectural style combining classical and baroque elements typical of the late 19th century. The development was given the blessing of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage because as proposed the development will “preserve the facade, integrate the balcony and apertures as well as the entrance hall”. 

The Local Plan designates the height limitation for the site as four floors on Triq Manuel Dimech and two floors on Triq San Gwann Battista.

But as approved the proposal consists of five floors on Triq Manuel Dimech, which will be stepped down to two floors and three floors on Triq San Gwann Battista. The highest floor in both cases will be set back.

Height limitations are now subject to SPED Policy UO2.3, which advocates “a contextual approach towards controlling building heights” within Urban Conservation Areas and by DC15 Policy P4 which requires that proposals comply “with the existing committed prevailing height.

In recommending Gaffarena’s application the directorate noted that on the opposite side of Triq San Gwann Battista one finds two buildings having a height of five floors, one of which has a set back floor.

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