Gozitan lawyer Damian Bigeni, a consultant to the Gozo Minister, has applied for a development permit to reconstruct a “disused farm” set on a clifftop location beyond the development zone in Xagħra.
The building does not feature on any recent maps although the architectural drawings submitted with the application refer to it as a “pre-1967 building” – the submission includes an undated old map on which the L-shaped building is shown.
Although no building is evident from the roadside at the location, it is not possible to ascertain if any remnants of a dilapidated building exist among the dense trees.
The site lies adjacent to another plot where Bigeni last year procured a development permit to build a house with a swimming pool in two successive applications. The house, with its four storeys at the back, is perched on the cliff’s edge with a swimming pool and extends well beyond the development boundary. It commands sweeping views of valleys and hills.
Bigeni did not answer questions on why he has been submitting applications for developments incrementally, and whether the latest application to rebuild the farm or agricultural store and a reservoir is part of a plan to expand the adjacent house further outside development zone.
He said that the development of the house “envisages a development similar to others approved along the very same street” – there is only one other building in the street that significantly protrudes beyond the development zone in the same way.
As for the agricultural store, he said that the proposed development is “explicitly limited to the rehabilitation or restoration of an existing old building to prevent future damage. No change of use, enlargement or extension whatsoever is being sought or otherwise requested”.
In the initial application for the house, which was to enlarge an existent old house, the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) pointed out that the development fell on dense maquis – a rich habitat of trees and vegetation mostly found in inland cliff sites in Gozo.
ERA also expressed “concerns regarding future extensions/ancillary facilities after initial permission is granted (e.g. pool, paving, BBQ area, etc.), altering the site’s character to a more formal setting through piecemeal applications”.
The Planning Directorate’s case officer recommended approval and the application sailed through.
Five months later, Bigeni applied to add another storey and a swimming pool. This time, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage opposed the development, which falls within the Urban Conservation Area. ERA also opposed it. And the case officer recommended refusal.
Yet the Planning Commission gave Bigeni a development permit, allowing the house to grow to four floors at the back, set to tower over the cliff’s edge.
The latest application, to reconstruct the agricultural shed and a water reservoir, was made at the end of last year and it is currently at the public representation stage. It’s a relatively sizeable shed at 55 square metres, and it is entirely outside the development zone.
All applications and architectural submissions were prepared by Alexander Bigeni, an architect and brother of Damian. Like Damian, Alexander is also a consultant to the Gozo Minister.
Alexander is one of the most prolific architects in Gozo on development applications. In recent years he has also featured in a number of controversial applications belonging to property magnate Joseph Portelli and his associates, including the application for a sprawling block of flats in Qala.