Deceptive zoning may pave way for 14-storey Xghajra high-rise

Xghajra residents are up in arms against a proposal for three blocks of a total 161 apartments on farmland located just outside the site of Smart City

Xghajra residents are up in arms against a proposal for three blocks of a total 161 apartments on farmland located just outside the site of Smart City.

The application, filed by Jason Mifsud’s Elegant Homes Ltd, was reported by MaltaToday in February but was subsequently removed from the PA’s public information system as it was deemed “incomplete”. The application has now been republished.

The application refers to a zoning application approved in August 2018 which earmarked the site for the application of the Floor Area Ratio mechanism, which allows the 17.5-metre height limitation to be spread over additional floors in return for the allocation of open piazzas.

Residents were unaware that the zoning application approved in 2018 had anything to do with high-rise developments, as it simply referred to the removal of a schemed 3m front garden and changes to the road and building alignment.

In fact, the application did not even solicit any objections from residents and any response by the local council.

But the aim of the application, as explained in the case officer’s report, was to remove the front garden so that this area could also be included in the calculation of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for the site.

The FAR is based on the ratio of a building’s total floor area (gross floor area) to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built.

The zoning application also ensures that the site is surrounded by roads on all sides as required by the FAR policy.

“The main issue in this application is to qualify for the Floor Area Ration development by including the area of the current front garden and the schemed piazza within the floor space”, of the proposed development, the case officer said in the 2018 application.

The decision states that should the site not be developed “holistically” through an application regulated by the FAR policy, the front gardens and original road alignment should be restored.

Following the approval of the zoning application, developers tried to include the high-rise plans in an old application for six-storey development presented way back in 2008. But the application was later withdrawn and presented again in its current form.

According to plans, the site has an area of 4,725sq.m of which 1,420sq.m consist of proposed streets. According to policy, only sites over 4,000sq.m are eligible for the FAR policy. Therefore, the building and road alignment approved in the zoning application was vital to ensure the eligibility of the site for higher development than foreseen in local plans.

The Xghajra development will have 210 garages on three basement levels, then 1,300sq.m of commercial space at ground floor and 1,200sq.m of retail space on the overlying two floors. The uppermost floor, which includes the penthouses, will be receded.

The area in question is identified for three-storey development and a semi-basement, which under current policies actually translates to 17.5m in height – normally resulting in five-storey developments.

Xghajra was not among the sites where tall buildings over 10-storey development can be allowed, but the FAR policy can be applied on all sites which are over 4,000sq.m in Malta, subject to a number of conditions – including being surrounded by roads on all sides.

The policy also states that high-rise developments defined as developments higher than 10-storey developments can only be considered in Tigné, Marsa, Paceville, Qawra, Mriehel and Gzira. However, medium-rise development of up to 10 floors can be considered in other localities. But this particular application is proposing 14 storeys, which would effectively result in a high-rise development.

The PA recently approved the 12-storey high Shoreline development within the confines of Smart City. The proposed ITS campus included in Smart City is also set to include a 12-storey hotel. But Smart City, unlike Xghajra, is governed by its own masterplan which allocates different heights to different areas of the project.

Residents who spoke to MaltaToday fear that approval of this application will seal the fate of their locality, transforming it from a tranquil seaside locality into an extension of Smart City.

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