Villa Bonici grounds: plans for hotel, old people’s home, offices in Sliema

A proposed ‘masterplan’ for Villa Bonici says 65% of the site, 7,470 sq.m will be built up, while 4,030 sq.m will be retained as open space

The Villa Bonici grounds in Sliema
The Villa Bonici grounds in Sliema

Sliema residents are being expected to submit their feedback to a masterplan for the development of the abandoned Villa Bonici gardens, whose owners are seeking permits for a boutique hotel, offices, and an old people’s home.

But there are no clear indications of what the building heights earmarked for the proposed development will be.

According to the proposed ‘masterplan’, 7,470 sq.m of the site (65%) will be built up, while 4,030 sq.m will be retained as open space.

Originally the only document available online through which residents could assess what is being planned for the Villa Bonici gardens was a site plan.

But following queries to the Planning Authority by MaltaToday a ‘masterplan’ showing the extent of the different components of the project was published on the PA’s web site.

The plan shows that substantial parts of the historic gardens in the middle of the site, which include the nymphaeum and the mock Gothic folly, are being retained as open spaces, while 2,147 sq.m of offices are being proposed along the Parisio and Colonel Savona streets.

A boutique hotel is being proposed in the existing villa, which occupies 660 sq.m between Manwel Dimech sreet and the gardens.

A larger hotel development is also being proposed on 2,330 sq.m along Parisio street, while an old people’s home is being proposed on 1,725 sq.m of land between the gardens and Colonel Savona street.

A Planning Authority spokesperson justified the absence of more detailed plans saying that the application presented is only an outline plan and “therefore only a masterplan has been submitted”.

An outline plan application is normally presented by developers to set the parameters for development on a particular site. A full development permit is submitted at a later stage, after the PA accepts the development in principle. But normally outline permits also include detailed plans which include building heights and other details.

The Sliema Council is closely following the new proposals.

PN councillor Michael Briguglio who has been following the case since the original application was presented, told MaltaToday that the council “will do its utmost so that residents’ quality of life is protected and that development plans are in synch with the beauty of the area in question.”

In February 2014, the PA board turned down an application for 188 apartments in four blocks, the highest being 12 storeys high.

The development was refused because the local plan stipulates that a development brief should be presented before any development is approved. Normally, it is the PA which drafts development briefs before the private sector submits proposals based on the parameters set by the authority. But this case is considered different because the land in question is privately-owned.

In 2015 a new application presented by the developers proposed “a development brief” on the 11,500 sq.m site. But the nomenclature of the application has now been changed to a request for an outline permit. This comes as a result of changes to the law which relegated such development briefs to the lowest rung in the planning hierarchy. And effectively this means that the development will be assessed according to the design guidelines issued in 2015 which are not site-specific.

The landowners have always insisted that Villa Bonici is a private property and that the villa’s location in the middle of urban development gives its owners rights to its monetary value.