Country villas rise from ashes of dilapidated farmsteads

Green light from the PA for a 200sq.m country home to be built instead of scattered rooms in Kuncizzjoni

Country villas rise from ashes of dilapidated farmsteads
Country villas rise from ashes of dilapidated farmsteads

The new rules for building houses inside rural areas have just provided yet another textbook case as to how the Planning Authority is allowing ruins to be turned into massive country homes of over 200 square metres.

Only this month, the PA’s planning commission approved a 210sq.m dwelling in the Gerzuma valley, just off the Kuncizzjoni chapel, on the site were four separate dilapidated rooms of 3sq.m to 80sq.m previously stood.

The original request for a permit was turned down in 2012. Then the decision was appealed, and the application was referred back for a decision by the planning commission, to be assessed according to new rules in the PA’s rural policy guidelines which make building outside development zones (ODZ) easier.

The structures are just 100 metres from cliffs inside Natura 2000 ‘Special Areas of Conservation’.

Back in 2009, this proposal was already said to have a negative impact on the area’s rural character by the PA’s own natural heritage panel.

But the present-day rural policy allows the “rehabilitation and change of use” of vernacular buildings, and the extension of any ODZ dwelling up to a maximum floor space of 200sq.m.

In this case the owner presented a “restoration method statement” to ensure the preservation of some of the walls of the existing rooms. But the case officer’s report actually shows that the proposal will involve “substantial lateral and vertical extensions” in breach of the same rural policy.

“However, the Planning Directorate understands that the current complex, which has a vernacular value worthy of conservation, presents a significant challenge to adapt it to modern standards of living,” the case officer then says, arguing for the preservation of the internal thick walls.

The finished construction will be that of a contemporary-looking structure linking the central main complex to the small complex of rooms to its north. A second floor was justified as a way to “reduce the need to physically intervene on the original fabric.”

Since the buildings were deemed to have “vernacular” value, the applicant was not obliged to prove that the rooms had been used as a dwelling, that is, having had a minimum living area of 100sq.m.

In this case, the habitable area was of 82sq.m, but the discrepancy was overlooked as being “slightly less” than that foreseen by policy. The “negligible” deviation was justified on the grounds that some 30% of the original building’s footprint was taken up by thick walls.

Before 2012, the owners had failed to conclusively demonstrate that the building had been used as a residence, and a site plan attached to notarial deeds submitted in their application was found “not to relate in any way to the structures under this application”.

But the case officer concluded in an analysis of the architecture that the core building had been used as a dwelling. The case officer proposed a 200sq.m terrace to surround the dwelling so as to provide pedestrian access from the gate as well as an accessible outdoor area.

The Planning Commission approved the development on condition that the area dedicated to timber flooring and grass blocks is reduced and five Sandarac gum trees (gharghar) and five Holm oak trees are planted.

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