Sun City: A vital development 'trapped' in... strange decisions

The five-star hotel that would bring 200 jobs and attract thousands of tourists to Agia Thekla, trapped in... strange and arbitrary decisions

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"Trapped" in... strange and largely... incomprehensible decisions that prevent its smooth completion and operation is a development of vital importance for the tourist product of the free area of ​​Famagusta - and not only -.

The reason for Sun City, a project consisting of a five-star hotel and a residential apartment building, which is located within the municipal limits of the Municipality of Sotiras and whose implementation will bring multiple benefits to the local community and the wider area, as it will attract thousands of tourists and open over 200 jobs.

The report was published by the website InBusiness

It is essentially the first real five-star unit in the area, with restaurants by internationally renowned chefs, which at the same time contributes the most to the enrichment of the tourist product, not only of the specific area that really needs it, but also of our country in general in the context and the relevant strategic targeting of the Deputy Ministry of Tourism.

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The Sun City Chronicle

Sun City had secured planning permission in 2017, but development rights, such as an increase in the building factor, would arise along the way - in the context of the provision of government incentives for all hotel units.

Read also: Strong reaction of Sotira residents: "Tombstone in the development of the beach front" (VIDEO+PICTURES)

After this development, the owning company was verbally informed by the Department of Town Planning that the additional square meters could be used in height, so as not to seal more ground and in order to preserve visual escapes towards the sea.

In view of this, the company proceeded to build an additional floor in the already approved unit, submitting in the meantime an official request for an increase in height, which was rejected. In light of this, the company subsequently submitted a hierarchical appeal, which, while initially partially accepted by the Town Planning Department (including the construction of a floor as it had actually been built on site), was subsequently rejected by the inter-ministerial committee in which, as provided for the law, forwarded for decision.

Securing a permit by way of derogation

With these data, in 2021 the company submitted to the Board of Deviations Studies an application for a deviation permit, which the Cabinet of the previous Government approved last January (2023), having of course preceded all the required procedures, including the public consultation with all the departments involved (positive opinions of the Director of Urban Planning, the Municipality of Sotiras, the Public Hearing, the Council for the Study of Deviations and the Ministry of the Interior).

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Compensatory measures worth €410.000

It is worth noting in this regard that in order to reduce the pressures on the protected area, which is pointed out to be outside the property of the development, the Council of Ministers imposed conditions and compensatory measures worth €410.000 (including the amount which the company paid to a special fund of the Municipality of Sotiras last February), as well as the acceptance for non-utilization of the remaining unutilized building factor and coverage rate of the urban planning zone, as well as any incentives or future building factor. Which essentially means that the owning company will not be able to take advantage of any rate measures in addition to the existing ones, even if new town planning incentives etc. arise in the area.

The attitude of the Environmental Authority

Despite all this, and although before the decision was taken it had been called to take a position on the matter, the Department of the Environment refused to carry out an assessment - even though both European and Cypriot legislation allow and/or impose, under conditions, the environmental opinion even if the development has been implemented -, authorizing the Town Planning Authority to decide if the urban planning legislation allows the granting of a planning permit for a development that has been implemented.

In particular, in a third separate consultation that took place in 2022 after the preparation of the special ecological assessment for the area and before the decision of the Council of Ministers, with a letter the Department of the Environment left it to Urban Planning to decide whether it will take "measures to remove the illegality or will proceed with their legalization", thus giving absolute authority to the Department of Town Planning and Housing to decide as it sees fit.

It should be emphasized at this point that with regard to the tourist developments that are being built, even if an application has previously been submitted for them and a planning permit is expected to be secured (s.b. as in this case Sun City), the special ecological report provides the possibility of granting a planning permit with compensatory measures to protect the area.

However, subsequently, and in light of public warnings from the Audit Service to the parties involved that it will report them to the Anti-Corruption Authority in the event that they proceed with the issuance of the permit, the Department of the Environment changed its interpretation of the special ecological assessment, issuing note "that in order to reduce the pressures on the protected area he meant the rehabilitation (ie demolition) of the unassessed/licensed buildings".

In other words, he came afterwards, to position himself in complete opposition to his previous decision, on the basis of which he essentially gave the possibility to the Town Planning Department to grant a planning permit and, by extension, to the Council of Ministers to approve it.

It is additionally worth noting that during the consultations that took place in 2021, no new environmental conditions were set for the additions, even though the Department of the Environment had all the information about the project and the special ecological assessment report for the area, having every opportunity to give an opinion .

It is further pointed out that in the Public Hearing held in 2022, the Department of the Environment did not attend the public consultation to position itself, in contrast to the first stage during the issuance of the planning permission in 2017, when it was positioned with the imposition of conditions which the company also complied with respectfully.

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The blocking and the consequences

The blocking of the issuance of a planning permit by the Department of the Environment, for reasons apparently only known to it, creates a chain of negative effects, both for the owning company itself and - much more - for the development perspective of the specific area.

It is typical that under the spectrum of the aforementioned developments, the owner company, which it is noted that in the course of things contracted with a specific company to manage the unit for the 2024 tourist season, was forced to buy 100% of the shares of the project, as foreign investors were not in the mood to stick around after them. It is also pointed out that €50 million has been spent on the project so far, while another €25 million will be spent on its completion.

At the same time, for the local bodies - in addition to the loss of the multiple benefits that will result from the completion of the development - the question arises as to the ramifications of a possible demolition of a floor and consequent logical decision of the owner of the project to proceed with the alternative construction of a new apartment building to take advantage of all its development rights and the available building factor, since it is clear that this will cause a real burden on the area since all visual escapes to the sea will be closed and a huge area will be sealed.

Instead, if the existing development goes ahead as approved by the Cabinet, then the building will be completed as soon as possible and an area reminiscent of a construction site will be landscaped from 2017.

The wrong impression…

It should be pointed out in conclusion that the impression has been wrongly created that two additional floors have been erected in the approved six-storey residential apartment building, as it appears from an on-site visit that from the Urban Planning point of view it seems to have been calculated that two additional floors were erected without taking into account that the original ground floor which it had apartments and a parking garage, it was completely converted into a parking garage, since it is common practice that "gatekeepers" do not count towards the number of floors.

In addition, the on-site investigation shows that the height of the apartment building is clearly lower than the hotel, to which it is accepted by the Town Planning that only one floor was added, i.e. the 6th.

However, pending the development of the Sun City case, it is expected with particular interest to what extent and how the other five pending applications for the construction of hotel units in the area and especially in the municipality of Sotiras will be affected.

Source: InBusiness