NEWS | Sunday, 25 November 2007

From palms to tower blocks?

James Debono

An application by JPM Brothers to demolish The Palms wedding hall in St Julians’ to construct 347 new apartments, 24 penthouses and 359 garages has sent shock waves among residents in this last oasis of peace in the area.
But the developers claim that the project will have little impact on traffic and parking, and that their project conforms to the local plan’s objectives of encouraging high rise development in urban areas.
The new apartments will be build on six tower blocks, three rising up to nine or 10 storeys, and the other three rising to seven storeys, in an area where the local plan limits development to just three storeys.
“I only learned of the proposed development on Monday when I saw a small notice affixed to the Palms,” a resident told MaltaToday.
The residents’ greatest concern is that the project will have an enormous impact on traffic in the area. The only two roads leading to The Palms are B’Kara hill and the narrow Ciantar alley. Residents already copmplain that finding a parking space is difficult.
“Considering that many families who will come to live here have more than one car and counting relatives visiting their homes, the project could attract as many as 1,000 new cars in the area,” a resident told MaltaToday.
But a spokesperson for JPM Brothers insists that the impact on traffic will not be significant as the development will accommodate all the traffic generated in new parking places in contrast with what used to happen when the reception hall was in operation.  
“Therefore, in terms of residential parking in the area, given that the development will provide sufficient parking provision, there will be no over-spilling into the neighbourhood.”  
They also announced that a traffic impact assessment will be finalised in the coming weeks.  
“At that point, the planner will be in a position to put forward his opinion,” the developers told MaltaToday.
The residents contend that the roadways in the area are totally inadequate for additional traffic of motor vehicles, and especially heavy trucks involved in construction.
But according to the developers, traffic directed towards the new project will use Birkirkara Hill which has ample capacity.  
“It is important to consider that this is a residential development and vehicle turnover would not be as significant as for other development types,” the developers said.
Residents are also worried that the high rise development will practically overshadow them.
But the developers claim that the application of the Floor Area Ratio policy is in conformity to the Local Plan policy objectives of efficient use and maximisation of land.  
“Moreover, it gives increased opportunities of open space which could not be possible if the area is developed in a conventional matter. The FAR policy thresholds allow more landscaping to be provided then conventional schemed building regimes.”
But according to the developers the existing trees on the former wedding hall’s grounds will be uprooted and transplanted elsewhere.
This is the second attempt by developers to develop The Palms. In June 2004 the late MaltaToday journalist Julian Manduca revealed that the new owners of the wedding hall wanted to develop the lavish gardens into a four-block complex with towers of 19, nine, five, and four storeys. But following strong public opposition, the development was abondoned.
The complex, which lies on an area of eight and a half tumoli, would leave much less space for greenery, and the residents are fuming because the properties they bought – enjoying wonderful views – will be spoilt by the development.
“This is the last tranquil part of Saint Julians. If MEPA allows this project we will lose our last remaining oasis of peace.”
Residents also insist that statutory services of water and electricity are already stretched to the limit by the new massive hotel complex, Le Meridien, in the vicinity.
They complained that the ambience of the peaceful residential area will be destroyed forever.
Residents have now asked MEPA’s own former internal investigation officer Carmel Cacopardo to present their objections to MEPA.

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