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Uproar over ODZ project at Żebbuġ, Gozo, cliff face

The site is located on top of the ridge and is only accessible through a lane. The development would jut out over this cliff face.

The site is located on top of the ridge and is only accessible through a lane. The development would jut out over this cliff face.

An application for the construction of a four-storey block with a communal swimming pool on a site outside the development zone (ODZ) in Żebbuġ, Gozo, has fuelled an uproar among residents and environmental groups.

A short distance from the St Mary parish church and accessible only through Sqaq Anton Mallia, the proposed development is on top of a ridge overlooking the picturesque Għasri Valley.

Architect Edwin Mintoff submitted the application for a full development permit in last November year on behalf of Jimmy Stellini.

While the application has been categorized by the planning authority as being in an ODZ area, the developer is arguing that this only applies to the location of the pool and jacuzzi area.

Mr Stellini is also proposing to leave part of the ODZ land for agricultural use. The rest would be a “soft-landscaped recreational area”. According to the plans, the six apartments and underlying three parking spaces will be within the development boundary.

On the other hand, residents and environmental groups, as well as the local council are objecting to the development, saying it will create an eyesore and ruin the village’s cliff face.

In its submissions, heritage org-anisation Din l-Art Ħelwa warned this development would result in a loss of interesting geographic formations. It pointed out that when viewed from the valley, the proposed building would have an adverse visual impact, as two of the four storeys would be constructed in the ridge face.

The fall of the Azure Window was considered a sad day for Gozo – a loss that cannot be replaced, and a lot of fuss was made – and by rights! But that was nature itself… How about this case?

Nevertheless, the proposed design offered no solution to mitigate its aesthetic impact, the NGO said. Objections were also raised on the type of access which the apartment block would have due to the fact that that it is not located on a public road but a narrow alley overlooking the cliffs.

DLĦ remarked that this case suggested the boundary of the development zone had been erroneously indicated and should therefore be shifted to prevent ridge developments in the future.

Objections were also raised by Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar and the Żebbuġ local council, with the latter yet to submit detailed representations.

An aerial view of the site earmarked for development.An aerial view of the site earmarked for development.

Though a notice was put up onsite indicating the two-week public consultation periodm which expired last Thursday, the overwhelming number of objectors complained they had only become aware of the application by word of mouth, as the notice had been removed within hours.

Residents living near the site earmarked for development urged the planning authority to refuse the application, saying it would result in the destruction of virgin land. Concerns were also raised on the impact the increased traffic and demand for parking space would create in this zone. One objector pointed out that unlike the recent collapse of the Azure Window, which was an act of nature, authorities were still in time to halt the development.

“The fall of the Azure Window was considered a sad day for Gozo – a loss that cannot be replaced, and a lot of fuss was made – and by right!  But that was nature itself… How about this case? This is human impact on nature for development of flats… Unbelievable... destroying the cliffs of Żebbuġ, Gozo? I hope this application was a joke!” the objector remarked.

Attempts to develop the site are not unprecedented. In 2008, the planning watchdog unanimously refused an application by a different developer, which included the construction of a terraced, low-massed development.

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