St Julian’s concave townhouse to get three new floors

A concave two-storey townhouse in St Julian’s will get two new storeys and a receded fifth floor to accommodate four new apartments

While the concave façade and an entrance hall with typical arches will be retained, the rest of the building will make way for four new apartments
While the concave façade and an entrance hall with typical arches will be retained, the rest of the building will make way for four new apartments

A concave two-storey townhouse in Lapsi Street, St Julian’s, built in the classical style typical of the interwar period, will soon be getting two new storeys and a receded fifth floor to accommodate four new apartments following a permit issued on 1 July.

While the concave façade and an entrance hall with typical arches will be retained, the rest of the building, including a staircase and a back garden, will make way for four new apartments. 

The local plan stipulates a maximum height of three storeys and a penthouse in this area of St Julian’s, which is designated as an Urban Conservation Area.

But a case officer’s report recommending the approval of the application, cites the exemption given in the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Planning which allows the PA to apply a “contextual approach” to heights in Urban Conservation areas.

The development has been proposed by Equinox Ventures Limited, a company whose directors include architect Ray Demicoli, and is partly owned by his family’s STL Limited. Demicoli, who was also the architect of the project, is also a  member of the PA’s Design Advisory Committee, which is consulted by the authority on the design quality of large scale projects.  

The same company was given a permit in November 2013 to develop the open space between the St Julian’s Church and the primary school, which will include a supermarket, offices, and apartments which abut on the back garden of the townhouse.

A year later Demicoli applied to enlarge the car park and the commercial development as a result of the inclusion of five properties along Triq Lapsi. This pending application also incorporates the back gardens of these properties.

Also last year the same company submitted an application to demolish the façade of the other half of the concave building which also has a garden, but this application was later withdrawn. 

The building includes a main staircase and two spiral staircases, which cannot be retained. In the past the PA had insisted on the preservation of such features to the extent that Charles Polidano was fined €14,000 for demolishing a similar staircase in a Sliema townhouse redevelopment.

The extra two storeys will be built in a similar architectural style to the concave building. The additional set back floor above the concave floors will be built in a style which “accentuates” the concave shape of the building.

Moreover the proposed development will exceed the maximum 30-metre development depth into the garden allowed by existing policies. But the case officer claims that this is justified because a next door development already exceeds the 30 metre limit and that the site is “hemmed at the back by the development” of the Spinola Park development.

The extra floor over and above the local plan limit is being allowed to screen an existing blank wall created by an adjacent building, only to create another blank party wall on the other half of the concave building. But the case officer cites as justification future plans to build over the other building.

The street is an example of haphazard planning policies in the past, with higher buildings encroaching on the remaining townhouses. New policies on building heights now could pave the way for developers to build additional storeys wherever a blank party wall creates a gap.

A neighbour to the development has objected, lamenting loss of air, light and views but the PA replied that “protection of views” is not a planning consideration. Din l-Art Helwa has also objected, insisting that the building and its garden should be retained. 

More in National