Seventy metres up the road from a block of flats that belong to Joseph Portelli and associates and that is the most imposing on the entire ridge, a second block of 7 levels was granted development permits incrementally, rising permit by permit.
This second block belongs to a separate developer, Francesco Grima. Although narrower and hence less bulky, it also juts jarringly over the land sloping away.
The two blocks hulk over the ridgeline, spilling over the receding fields, in greater scale and prominence than any of the other buildings on the same ridge.
The project architect of all the various incremental applications in this second block, belonging to Grima, was Alex Bigeni, a prolific architect associated with various controversial applications in the past year or so.
The Kamra Tal-Periti (Chamber of Architects) told Lovin Malta last September that it was investigating Bigeni over a separate building elsewhere subject to fragmented applications. In that case, a centuries-old farmhouse was engulfed by a building developed in stages.
The outcome of the probe, or whether it has been completed, is not known.
In the two cases, including the one covered here, Bigeni put in one of the applications via the so-called summary procedure, an expedited application-processing procedure introduced in amendments to planning law in 2016.
In its probe, the Chamber of Architects' said it would look into the four criteria of misconduct set in law, including “professional negligence, misconduct or malpractice” or “behaviour that brings the profession into disrepute.”
The ridge blocks
The 7-level block of flats on the ridge sits adjacent to yet another, smaller preexisting block that also grew a penthouse in incremental fashion, with the same architect involved - Alex Bigeni.
In the case of the 7-level block, the initial permit was granted to someone called George Camilleri for two terraced houses with basement, or terraces out-back.
Seven months later the developer Francesco Grima applied to transform this permit into a maisonette, nine flats, and a penthouse, as well as underlying garages. It is this permit that was processed under the so-called summary procedure, a desk exercise in which an application is decided by the case officer without going to the planning board.
This procedure was introduced in 2016 for development applications smaller than 16 flats. This excludes developments beyond the development zones or in Urban Conservation Areas. In this case, the site partially falls outside the development zone.
Permit was granted on 21 January 2020.
Nine days later the applicant put in a new application for “internal and external alterations and to carry out minor extensions at the back of the site.” This time it went to planning board, which delivered permit on 4 May 2020.
Less than 3 months later, Grima put in yet another application: to add another penthouse. This final permit was then granted at the end of last year.
Adjacent block grows a penthouse
A preexisting, adjacent block of 4 levels grew a penthouse in the same period. The applicant was Vincent Agius, and the architect Alex Bigeni.
Here is a sequence of the applications put in and permits granted to make the penthouse:
- 27 April 2017: to build domestic store on roof.
- 18 April 2018: to build domestic store on roof.
- 19 February 2019: to change the approved plans/permits mentioned above “from domestic store to a receded dwelling.”
- 2 September 2020: “To construct the penthouse approved in the outline permit PA/02084/19 [the application of 19 February 2019] and to carry out alterations to the approved layout.”
- 22 October 2021: “To sanction internal and external alterations to approved penthouse”.
The first four applications have all been granted. The fifth one – submitted on 22 October 2021 – is yet to be granted, although the construction appears to have been completed – this is a sanctioning application. The case officer has recommended approval. Decision is scheduled for next month.