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MALTATODAY 8 November 2020

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JAMES DEBONO A Hili Ventures project to redevelop the Comino hotel into a zero-carbon foot- print bungalow complex will extend into undeveloped land of ecological impor- tance, including garigue. Both the environment and heritage au- thorities welcomed the downsizing of the existing hall, but expressed serious concerns on the expansion of the bun- galow village overlooking Santa Marija bay. The proposed hotel and 21-villa com- plex is being marketed as one that will marry sustainable design to architec- ture that will respect the natural sur- roundings, to generate a zero-carbon footprint. In its first assessment, the ERA said the proposed extension of the bungalow village was "intensified in this particular area". The ERA said the hotel project was an improvement over the present situ- ation, describing it as a "rationalization of areas of scattered outbuildings". And while welcoming the hotel's downsizing, the ERA wants the coastal area between the hotel and foreshore should "be re- habilitated" and "formal interventions and hard landscaping" be kept to a min- imum. The ERA is also concerned by plans to develop a belvedere and underground spa adjacent to a scenic, steep-sided, natural inlet that characterises the head- land between the bays of San Niklaw and Dahlet il-Hmara. Noting this is being proposed very close to "one of the is- land's natural geomorphological herit- age features", ERA is calling for the re- location of the proposed structures to a less sensitive area. Project risks undermining Comino's character – SCH The Superintendence for Cultural ex- pressed "great concern" on the extent and intensity of the proposed devel- opment, noting that that this will have "inevitable negative impacts which will alter the nature of Comino as a rural, largely uninhabited island". The extensive excavation to accom- modate swimming pools, reservoirs and a sewage treatment plant could have a detrimental impact on the cultural land- scape, a characteristic of such a small barren island. The Superintendence also expressed concern on the proposed berthing fa- cilities, warning that these will alter the character of the existing natural coastline in an "unacceptable manner". It warned against upgrading existing pathways into roads while reiterating its stance against a parallel application to extend a pier at the Blue lagoon as currently being proposed by the govern- ment. Hotel project The 21 villas will have a footprint of over 5,200sq.m, almost 2,000 sq.m more than that presently covered by existing bungalows. They will include an ad- ditional 500sq.m in swimming pools, 4,200sq.m of concrete landscaping, soft landscaping for gravel over garigue. Dirt roads will cover 5,000sq.m and a further 1,500sq.m will be stone and wooden ter- races outside the villa area. The total area disturbed by develop- ment in this area will increase from the existing 16,000sq.m to 20,000sq.m. But the ERA says the development should be downsized and contained within the ex- isting developed footprint of the existing bungalows. The Comino hotel at San Niklaw bay will be demolised together with the Santa Marija b u n g a l o w s , but the replacement hotel – reduced from 29,000sq.m to 22,000sq.m – and villas will be on a larger footprint alto- gether. The redevelopent will require a sewage treatment plant and reservoirs, as well as a solar farm instead of the pig farm, and the restoration and conversion of a 19th century isolation hospital, for accom- modation purposes. 8 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 8 NOVEMBER 2020 NEWS Comino villas to extend on garigue Heritage and environment authorities welcome hotel downsizing but express concern on expansion of bungalows on garigue The villa area (left) as proposed. The villa area is located at Santa Marija Bay, seen on the photo below to the right with the superimposed extension in red, over the current bungalows (yellow). The hotel at San Niklaw Bay, visible on the left side of the photo will be replaced by a new hotel but it will be downsized 1910 'room' not enough to skirt planning rules JAMES DEBONO AN attempt to build an agricul- tural store in Mistra on the pre- text that a 'room' once existed in the proposed site back in 1910, was foiled after it turned out the room was only a temporary structure for quarrying works for the Valletta breakwater. The room lied on the same Natura 2000 site that infamous- ly had been earmarked for an open-air disco and became the 'Mistragate' scandal during the 2008 election, which land was then owned by then-Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. The application for the 22sq.m store was presented by Guido Cutajar Forte, who tills two tu- muli of land in the Mistra area. However, this falls short of the 4 tumuli threshold for farmers to be eligible to such a store. Cutajar Forte employed archi- tect Robert Musumeci to argue for his application, who pro- duced an old photograph of the area dating back to the beginning of the 20th century to justify the reconstruction of the old room. The application was filed as one envisaging "the reconstruction of an agricultural store visible on pre-1978 site photos". In this way the application was presented as one intended to reconstruct a previously exist- ing building, to circumvent the requirement that an applicant has to cultivate a minimum of 4 tumoli to be eligible for a store. But it turned out that the pho- tographs had been extracted from documentation related to works carried out in rela- tion to the construction of the Grand Harbour breakwater be- tween 1900 and 1910, when a temporary block-making yard was constructed at Mistra. At that time the hillock was quar- ried for spalls, and several fields were cleared of soil in prepara- tion for the development of a block-making floor. But after the works were finished the site was rehabilitated and no traces of the work were left. The environment and plan- ning review tribunal concluded that the previous existence of the room was irrelevant to the case, as it no longer existed in 1978, the cut-off date for build- ings eligible for redevelopment, upholding a refusal by the PA's planning commission made in 2019.

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