EDITORIAL NOTE: After this article was originally published earlier today, the developer Euchar Vella wrote to point out something along the following lines (quote below was slightly edited to improve clarity and grammar):
The comparison with other blocks was only limited to the sudden change in interpretation of the sanitary law by sanitary officials at the Planning Authority. Any individual (not interconnected - duplex) basement residential units which overlook a valley deeper than 15 metres must have a backyard on the roadside. Our comparison was to prove that the same officials used to interpret the law differently. At the end of the day – and this is where you got it really wrong and I expect a correction – we had to concede and accept the new interpretation of sanitary law. Plans were amended and 2 individual units at basement amalgamated with the units above them.
While any mistake is regretted, this came about because several documents have not been uploaded to the Planning Authority’s E-Applications server. In fact none of the three documents mentioned in the minutes of the Planning Commission hearings were uploaded to the E-Apps.
The submission by Vella in turn opens new questions on the granting of a permit in which the lower habitable floor is below road level at the street end of the development, and then looks out over the valley at the back. This goes beyond sanitary law, it's a question of planning and aesthetics of multi-storey developments on ridge-type edges of valleys. Policies on ridge-edge developments in Gozo, or even just development-zone boundaries, were not intended to allow such number of storeys, even though the Planning Authority has been granting such permits rather regularly.
These points may be raised in the appeal that the Qala Local Council will be filing, and they will be covered in due time.
Meanwhile, the article on this page originally published earlier today still remains accurate in substantial parts, but it has been partially altered, and some paragraphs/pictures deleted, in view of this new information.
The Qala Local Council is set to appeal against a planning permit for a six-level block of flats perched above a valley. The block of eight residential units at Ta Marga was granted to Euchar Vella, owner of Karkanja Developments Ltd, one of Gozo's largest developers.
The mayor of Qala, Paul Buttigieg, said when contacted that the council has “unanimously agreed during the last Council meeting to appeal against this permit.”
Analysis of submissions to the Planning Authority shows that the architect submitted a “photographic survey” showing the site and the development in relation to its setting. Yet one of the pictures shows a different location 100 metres down the road from the actual location. Other pictures are taken from an oblique angle more than 300 metres away, with the building delineated by two perpendicular red lines that seem narrower than the actual breadth of the building.
The development sits on land that belonged to Beneficcju ta Sant Antonio delli Navarra. A medieval foundation set up to raise funds for pious deeds, it has been much in the news in recent years in a running story dubbed the Gozo land grab.
The foundation has been administered by the lawyer Patrick Valentino since he was appointed rector by Archbishop Charles Scicluna on 20 February 2017. On that same day Scicluna also authorized his legal emissary to sign a contract with Valentino and six Stagno Navarra siblings – who claim to be descended from foundress of the foundation – in which Scicluna “renounced the right” to give his assent to land transfers.
Around six months later Valentino signed a preliminary agreement to transfer the land at Ta Marga amounting to the size of a football pitch to Dei Conti Holdings Limited, which belongs to the Stagno Navarras. The agreement was made good the next year, with Dei Conti getting the land on emphyteutical lease for €42,600 annually.
Valentino also began to send judicial letters asking people whose houses sit on the land to vacate their property, threatening them with court action and police reports. He did open a court case against one family, who are fighting back in court by, among other things, attempting to challenge his juridical interest – whether he able to mount such a case in the first place. The case is ongoing.
Ta Karkanja Ltd in turn signed a preliminary agreement (otherwise known as promise of sale) on the part of the land on which the development is sited. On the application form, Euchar Vella declared that he is “an owner of the site”.
Asked if the preliminary agreement has been made good, or if he had made a false declaration of ownership in the planning authority application, he said: “We were authorised in the promise of sale agreement to apply for permits.”
A preliminary agreement – or promise of sale agreement – does not confer ownership.
Another complication for Vella is an overlap of around 2 metres with the neighbour’s property on the digital map system of Land Registry Agency. These neighbours are the same family taken to court by Valentino, seeking their eviction from their house build on land that has been held by their ancestors for around 130 years.
In response to a question on whether he can proceed with developing the land and selling the flats in view of this overlap, Vella said: “The part of land which is registered by the neighbour does not reflect the boundaries on site. A solution is being sought with the same neighbour.”
Sources said that the foundation made a request for a correction last year. The overlap appears to have come about, according to Lands Registry official, when the parcel “was not entered correctly on the digital map system”. Yet an initial decision to “correct [the overlap] accordingly” was overturned higher up the chain of command. The family confirmed when contacted that they have not given their consent to correction of the overlap.