The Planning Authority this morning approved a controversial development spearheaded by construction magnate Joseph Portelli in Gozo’s picturesque and ecologically sensitive Ta’ Żejta valley, which is now set to be overshadowed by a five-storey apartment block.
The approval comes despite vociferous objections from nearby residents and NGOs.
The project comprises 54 apartments, including penthouses with private pools, and a total of 41 garages. The site on which the project is to be built is largely vacant, with the exception of an unfinished building with a dubious planning history that was built illegally in the 90s.
The unfinished building is set to be demolished and the finished project is expected to take up surrounding vacant land, adding 1,823 square metres to the urban footprint.
The company behind the development is PRA Construction Ltd, which is owned by Portelli and his regular associates Daniel Refalo and Mark Agius.
The development had first been approved in July 2022 but it was revoked by the Planning Authority’s Environment and Planning Review Tribunal after appeals from Judge Grazio Mercieca and Din l-Art Ħelwa.
An appeal by the developers has now been unanimously upheld.
Residents of the area who The Shift spoke to last year explained how the building on the spot of Portelli’s approved development remained vacant for decades because of its various planning issues. They expressed frustration over how quickly Portelli and his associates were allowed to proceed with their plans, in a matter of mere months.
An enforcement notice from 1996 shows that the owner of the site at the time had carried out works that were not a part of the approved plans. In 1990 Attard had obtained permission to build basement garages and two flats, in addition to the one garage and flat that had already been built.
PRA Construction’s development, however, surpasses those plans by leaps and bounds.
A public consultation process was carried out in February and March 2022 and particular concerns were raised about the watercourse that lies right in front of the project.
Multiple objections submitted by the general public accused the developers of having already sold the entire project before permits had even been issued.
Other objectors raised concerns over the area’s ecological sensitivity and the fact that it is highly prone to flooding, with one particular objector even posting pictures to prove their point.
NGOs Moviment Graffitti and Din L-Art Ħelwa also filed objections against the project. Besides raising similar concerns about flooding, Moviment Graffitti also raised concerns about how the development and its immediate consequences would impact agriculture and the area’s flora and fauna.
Din L-Art Ħelwa pointed out that the development in question “does not suit the character and distinctness of the streetscape” and that the building’s height “is completely out of context with its surroundings”.
Architect Joanna Spiteri Staines had even submitted a detailed, 20-page report detailing how the planning application would breach policies in the Local Plan for the area.
Spiteri Staines’ submission included references to how the applicants failed to include the required analysis of the streetscape and a photographic survey. The architect also emphasised how the development would generate a “12.3m high blank party wall of a length of circa 45m overlooking the back garden of the neighbouring villa”.
“There is no high architectural design quality and no attention given to any kind of massing. This is one large five-storey high block on the edge of an extremely sensitive area which fails to relate to the very sensitive context of one of the most important water catchment areas of all Gozo,” the architect observed.