A week before the general elections in June 2017, a developer wrote to the Lands Department informing the Authority it was holding back his plans in the area of the historical Villa Frere gardens, pointing out he had met the Prime Minister himself “who promised his full cooperation,” according to leaked documents.
The letter, dated 26 May 2017, was signed by developer Joseph Schranz who reminded the Lands Department that they had not replied to his efforts to purchase public land in the area. The “stalemate situation” was preventing him from moving forward with the development projected in this area, he said.
“I have even referred this matter to the Prime Minister informing him of the present circumstances, whereby he promised me his co-operation by referring me to Ray Bartolo at the OPM, whom I have already contacted but to no avail, since he is still waiting for the outcome from the Lands Department,” Schranz added.
Schranz is the owner of Pieta Estates Ltd – at the time an application was pending before the Planning Authority for a 10-storey retirement home that was the subject of controversy.
Villa Frere is renowned for its architectural and historical legacy. In the 19th century, it served as a meeting place for some of the most important artists and thinkers in Malta. Villa Frere gardens are Grade II listed, while the architecture merited Grade I protection.
The grounds are extensive. Schranz owns part of the area marked in blue (right), according to documents he submitted to the Lands Authority.
Pushing for development, he referred to the surrounding area as consisting of “old and dilapidated buildings”.
“I am very enthusiastic about this project, which will surely renovate the area, and in fact I have already invested in purchasing property in this site, but until the Lands Department decides on the sale of the adjacent sites indicated, I cannot progress with development,” Schranz said in his letter.
Pieta Estates’ application for a retirement home was then withdrawn.
But then a new application was recently filed. This time it was for a nine-storey hotel next to the adjacent 200-year old Giardino Zamitello. The application is filed by David Borg, owner of Land Gate Ltd.
Friends of Villa Frere, responsible for the management of part of the Villa Frere gardens, drew attention to the new development application on its Facebook group, saying:
“The application for a home for the elderly on Giardino Zamitello has been withdrawn only to be replaced by an even more monstrous development that will see the complete destruction of this baroque garden, save a few token relics”.
The group said that the new application “will all but destroy what remains of Villa Frere and its historic vistas,” pointing out that Giardino Zamitello was even older than Villa Frere.
“We will fight tooth and nail until the garden is scheduled,” the group said.
The new plans include digging up the house’s garden to make space for a spa, gym and pool. There will also be underground parking, a restaurant and a business centre.
The Planning Authority is accepting feedback on the development of the nine-storey hotel on its website until 8 March.