The application for a four-storey hotel in Xagħra Square in Gozo has been kicked back to the Planning Directorate for a fresh assessment after the architect presented amended designs during a hearing by the Planning Authority today.
The Shift published a report earlier today that delved into the revolving change in the applicant listed requesting the permit. The last change occurred on the eve of today’s hearing, when the application reverted back to Mark Agius, the initial applicant.
Agius is involved in several controversial developments in Gozo, and partners with property magnate Joseph Portelli in various developments.
The proposed development in Xagħra seeks to retain the façade of a postwar building while demolishing the rest and erecting a four-storey hotel of nine guest rooms and restaurant at ground level.
Three low floors have been designed to be crammed behind the present façade – the architect revealed that two of these floors are 2.5 metres high – while the fourth floor is set back from the façade.
Yet the Planning Directorate recommended refusal on several grounds: the incompatibility of the top floor as designed with policies, issues with disabled access, and the proposal for a basement which would entail excavations that would have an “irreversible impact on the Area of Archeological Importance”.
In the hearing earlier today, the project architect sought to neutralise the reasons put forward for refusal. He mentioned other developments in the area where excavations had been allowed. He also presented fresh architectural designs that provided for a wider front entrance and set the fourth floor even further back from the façade.
Board chairperson Vince Cassar opened the discussion by making a remark on the building height as being “overpowering”, and the frontage of the top recessed floor being too plain or austere. Other board members raised questions on several matters such as the omission of outdoor service installations in the drawings (such as water tanks) and the need for full information on the context in which excavations had been permitted elsewhere in the area.
A point was raised about the lack of objections against the development. Board member Anick Bonello Cassar delved into this matter, saying she wanted to see why there were no objections. “It’s not the first time that site notices [of applications inviting representations] have disappeared,” she said.
A point of confusion also emerged about the lack of representation by the local council. The Board heard that it’s standard procedure to inform councils. The Shift has been unable to independently verify whether the council had actually been informed, or whether the email or letter to the council had fallen through the cracks (the consultation period fell in the hiatus in-between dissolution of the council and the election of new one last year).
Sources have told The Shift of concern within the council at the PA’s failure to request it to appoint a representative to participate in today’s Board hearing. The project would have considerable impact on Xagħra’s town square.
Impact includes traffic generation and parking provision, as well as major disruption for existent entertainment outlets in the square during the demolition and reconstruction. Locals mingle in the square all day long, particularly in the summer months.
In today’s hearing, the Board eventually decided to allow the architect to present a new site plan and drawings, and for the directorate to make a fresh assessment on the basis of the amended designs.