A large restaurant in a Natura 2000 protected area on the Xlendi waterfront in Gozo, most of which was built illegally, was sanctioned by the Planning Authority against a fine of just €1,800.
Planning officials had originally issued a recommendation to refuse the permit, but the Planning Authority’s three-member government-appointed planning commission ignored it and went ahead with their favourable decision, according to documents reviewed by The Shift.
Terrazzo Restaurant and Beach Bar, acquired by developer Mark Agius, known as Ta’ Dirjanu, in 2022 in a seven-figure deal, includes an outdoor dining area, originally permitted to be 75 square metres but which has grown to 300 square metres, to allow for more seating for patrons.
Other illegalities included the replacement of demountable structures with fixed structures, the introduction of additional fixed structures, the redesign of several open staircases, and changes to the soft landscaping plan, including the uprooting of several trees.
In conformity with planning rules and the area’s sensitivity, the technical planning officers declared that the restaurant’s illegalities could not be sanctioned.
Justifying their recommendation to turn down Agius’ application, they declared that “the proposed structures in a Natura 2000 area scheduled for its high landscape value and ecological importance, run counter to various policies in the Gozo and Comino Local Plan” and that “these create an unacceptable adverse impact on these scheduled areas, by failing to directly protect them, and their visual access from different parts of Xlendi bay.”
Additionally, they noted that the proposed development “does not ensure an accessible environment for all its users and visitors”, again counter to Planning Authority policies.
Quick change in position
But when the proposal came up in front of the Planning Commission tasked with taking the final decision, the government-appointed Chairman Martin Camilleri, flanked by members Frank Ivan Caruana Catania and Perit Joel Fenech, disagreed with the recommendation and asked for a review.
According to them, once the area was already ‘committed’, the sanctioning could be approved with a few tweaks.
After suspending the application for three months and holding discussions with the developer’s architect, Emmanuel Vella, the same three-member commission approved all the illegalities.
Aguis was then asked to pay a fine of €1,800 for breaching many planning rules and laws.
Since, through the illegal increase of the reserved outdoor area – on public land – Agius would be hosting many more patrons in his restaurant, a planning gain of €173,000 was imposed to compensate for 23 new parking spaces this new illegal development would require.
Planning gain funds are requested from developers, according to a prescribed formula, when their development takes up public space. These funds are usually used for future public projects.
Considered one of the best-located restaurants in Gozo due to its stunning views, Terrazzo’s started out in 1995 as a small kiosk offering sunbeds for tourists.
Over time, and under both PN and PL administrations, the kiosk morphed into a full-blown restaurant with a large alfresco dining area.
The original owner who sold the business to Agius, with all its illegalities, was later recruited as a labourer at the Gozo Ministry.
Mark Agius, the current owner, has business links to developer Joseph Portelli and his construction business.
He has been implicated in several cases of abuse of planning laws, which the authorities have ignored for years. These include an illegal concrete batching plant in Kercem, co-owned with Portelli, that operates on public land without any license or title.
Before the last elections, Portelli organised an exclusive fundraising dinner for the Labour Party and Prime Minister Robert Abela was the guest of honour.