The Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, the Environment and Resources Authority and the Planning Authority’s Design Advisory Committee have raised new concerns over new designs presented by the developers of Villa Buleben in Zebbug.
The plans are for the protected palazzo to be turned into a luxury boutique hotel with independent living cabanas in its historic gardens.
The Shift reported last October that the three developers behind the multi-million-euro project put plans on hold following hundreds of objections sent to the Planning Authority concerning the project.
The wheels have now been set in motion again, with the developer’s architect, Edwin Mintoff, presenting new designs that reduced the development’s footprint but new controversial elements have also been included.
According to the new designs seen by The Shift, the developers -Neville Agius, Reuben Magro and Andre Farrugia – are planning to reduce the proposed hotel’s number of rooms from 46 to 28.
They are instead proposing the construction of an intermediate (mezzanine) floor on the historic palazzo’s piano nobile, a further take-up of the historic garden with pool decking, the construction of a large glass structure and the construction of indoor pools under the palace’s basement.
The new designs, some of them still not uploaded to the PA’s website, have been met with trepidation by the authorities concerned.
Their preliminary assessment, which will be further elaborated upon once more detailed plans are submitted, is overall negative in that the interventions being proposed may not be in line with the palazzo’s historic importance.
Primary concerns include the take up of further parts of the historic garden, which has been declared by the PA as a green enclave, the cabanas’ “haphazard configuration and orientation” and the effect the indoor pools’ excavation will have on the palazzo’s structure.
Hundreds of objections were filed against the development of ‘il-Palazz tal-Baruni’, which was the original home of Baron Gaetano Azzopardi, a medical professional who worked at the Order of St John’s infirmary.
Until a few years ago, it was owned by Alfred and Joseph Manduca, who had applied to build flats and apartments on parts of the historic property’s grounds. The development did not go forward.
The Palazzo was later bought by Agius, Magro and Farrugia, who later presented plans to turn the palazzo into a hotel.
Agius and Magro are business partners involved in several controversial building projects including some in Sliema and Valletta.
The pair were also involved in the acquisition of Canberra House in Valletta in 2015 from Allied Newspapers. Negotiations on the multi-million deal were led by the company’s former managing director Adrian Hillman facing money laundering and fraud charges.
Agius and Magro were partners in the deal with contractor Pierre Sladden, a business associate of former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri. The company never investigated the deal.
Farrugia, of the established notarial business Farrugia & Farrugia, bought into the Zebbug palazzo business venture in 2018.
The Planning Authority is still to issue its recommendation on the project.
Kullimkien ser jiehdu il-MANIGOLDI ta’pajjizna. Qed jisirquh bil-mod il-mod. Pajjiz zghir gabuh gungla tal-korrotti.
A professional restoration of this building is certainly most welcome. It is also useful that once restored the building is used.
Provided that the commercial use does not overpower the building and the landscaping of the garden is done professionally, with adequate number of trees and greenery.
Let’s try to seek balance, not ruining this building, on the contrary enhancing it’s beauty.
It is a beautiful building but it’s rotting away as it is. The gardens are historic and yet completely uncared for and kept under lock and key. Restoration would be amazing, even in the form of a boutique hotel. At least, the public could actually see it, use it and enjoy it.
Hopefully, a healthy balance can be reached with moving forward and preserving.