MEPA Watch | Sunday, 24 May 2009
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Robert Musumeci about a three-storey development and a penthouse in ODZ

Case details
A full development application for the construction of a penthouse over an already existing three-storey building (at the time of application, the second storey was receded) which lies in ODZ was submitted to MEPA. The site location forms part of a built-up ODZ settlement in Paola.
In the past there were several attempts to construct a three-storey block with receded washrooms at roof level on this site. However these requests were consistently refused. Eventually a permit was approved in 2006 where two storeys and a receded floor were given the green light. Of recent an application (which is the one being investigated in this article) was submitted to extend the approved receded floor (at second floor level) until the building line and construct an overlying penthouse.

Case Officer’s comments
On assessing the application, the case officer quoted textually from the Local Plan, stating that the site is located within an Area of High Landscape Value (AHLV) for the Harbour Fortifications.
The officer made also reference to Structure Plan policy BEN 5 which specifies that applications for permits outside the development zone should be judged against the Local Plans for Rural Conservation Areas, Structure Plan Policies and the Explanatory Memorandum. In fact, the case officer made reference to Paragraph 7.6 of the Structure Plan and recommended that the proposal should be refused on the pretext that the proposal did not classify as a genuine agricultural building and should therefore be refused.
The case officer also objected to request since the proposed penthouse did not fully satisfy the requirements of policy 10.6 of DC 2007, which requires that the penthouse is located at a minimum distance of 4.25 metres from the front façade.

DCC’s decision
The DCC approved the application on the pretext that the streetscape is committed with terraced development. The DCC also reasoned out that the area does not feature High Landscape Value as purported by the same case officer. Furthermore, the DCC made a specific mention to policy 10.6A in DC 2007, which allows receded penthouses on three-storey buildings. The DCC also underlined that the stipulated 4.25 metres setback which is applicable for penthouses should be taken from the centre line of the façade (when the frontal part of a plot is skewed).

Robert Musumeci’s observations
This decision demonstrates that the design principles regulating penthouses in development schemes (not UCAs) apply in ODZ settlement areas where three full storeys may be permitted by reason of street commitment. Moreover, this decision further proves that setback distances in relation to a penthouse should be taken from the centerline of the building line.
It also follows that it is only appropriate to adopt a case-by-case approach depending on the specific site circumstances. By approving this application, the DCC has not violated the principles regulating Local Plan Policy GI02 Building Heights since the resultant massing would not detract the views of the area from the Valletta/Floriana peninsula and the Cottonera port area. On a different note, the proposal is not in conflict with Structure Plan Policy SET 11 since the proposed vertical extension would not result in the take up of fresh land in ODZ.
In conclusion, it must be recalled that local plan policies are not be interpreted in a vacuum. Decisions are to be related to the specific site circumstances and the site context. The DCC was therefore correct in its decision.


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