The World's Slow Down and Our Speed Up!
Project progress & problematic planning permission unearthed
A slight downer, the COVID-19 was spreading fast in Italy. The rules of lockdown were becoming harsher in Italy, as around the world. Even in Hong Kong we were working from home most of the time - wishing that we were working from our farm in Tuscany! On the 8th of March, the Prime Minister announced that Lombardy (a region in northern Italy) and 14 other northern provinces were to be quarantined. The very next day he announced that the quarantine expanded to all of Italy. Today they prohibited all commercial activity except for supermarkets and pharmacies, the daily death toll is still rising and we really hope it will get better soon. We planned to go back to Italy in Easter and also in May, so now we will just have to wait and see the situation.
The Planning Issues
Given both David and us were homebound, we were able to go through a lot of the paperwork. First of all, David and his team reviewed all the planning status' of the buildings, there were a few missing links that needed our attention, particularly related to the Agricultural Development Plan (PAPMAA) of the property in 2005 and 2010. To help us understand what was happening, David gave us some background information of the planning applications in Italy, namely the Agricultural Development Plan (PAPMAA), the Envorinoment Application, the Planning Notifications (SCIA) and Planning Consent (PdC).
Agricultural Development Plan (PAPMAA)
In Italy, when there are major interventions of properties in rural areas such as restoration and conservative rehabilitation, building renovation including the transfers of volumes, change in the agricultural use of buildings that are part of farms and company divisions and expansions, approval of Agricultural Development Plan (PAPMAA) is needed. PAPMAA stands for Programma Aziendale Pluriennale di Miglioramento Agricolo Ambientale, it literally means "Multiannual Company Program for Environmental Agricultural Improvement", it aims to specify the economic and structural objectives that a rural company intends to achieve, describes the current situation and identifies the agronomic interventions as well as the environment interventions, the building interventions, the phases and time of realisation, verifying in advance the compliance with the urban planning and municipal regulation.
When a property (such as ours) is in a designated area of natural beauty, all external changes will under go a review by a local environmental review board which then gets forwarded to the Heritage Commission based in Florence. They will scrutinise all proposed modifications that we put forward and will be quick to shoot down anything that is not in line with the agricultural/rural characteristics of the property.
Planning Notifications - SCIA & Planning Consent - PdC
When the Agricultural Development Plan (PAPMAA) and the Environment Application are successful, a planning consent is required to carry out the actual works. However, there is an intermediate solution to apply for planning notification (SCIA). It is a certification that concerns building interventions which are not a part of the free building activity or subject to PAPMAA, in simple terms, for work that does not change the intended use and building category or do not alter the shape of the building, we can simply file the SCIA to start the work. When the work is completed, a final inspection would be conducted by the planning department and issue a certificate.
So back to us, we were quite shocked with this news, as before we completed the transaction, we hired a geometra to conduct a due diligence, where he did not raise any issues about the planning records, we quickly went back to him to find out what happened. At the same time David and his geometra were able to retrieve more documents and information with multiple correspondences and meetings with the planner and head architect of the local planning departments. Unfortunately, the doubt was confirmed that the Agricultural Development Plan (PAPMAA) in 2010 was never approved and only the SCIA dating back to 2010 can be considered partially valid (i.e. assigning the 4 suites on the first floor for agriturismo), this meant that some of the destination of the floors was incorrectly assigned, we need to revert the property back to 2005 and will need to get retrospective planning consent issued by the planning department before we can move forward. This was definitely a major setback for us.
Here are some major irregularities based on the PAPMAA in 2005:
- The previous owner's apartment needed to be removed as it is an area of designated agricultural use. We are really disappointed as this is such a warm and cozy apartment, we planned to stay in here during our regular visits before the construction work starts...now it all has to be removed.
- Some features on second floor bathrooms did not meet the height requirement for a bathroom, therefore they had to be removed too.
- Some niches that were not confirmed with the old plan.
The Annex Building
- The portico area should not be enclosed, we will have to remove the walls.
- The opening between the portico and cellar did not match the plan and needs to be closed.
First site visit
David and his team were trying to get on site in the past couple of weeks but were not able to due to the change of lockdown policy in Italy. They finally got there to do the survey in late March, the first thing he observed was that there was a rim beam above the first floor of the farmhouse and everything above it was an extension that was built quickly and poorly. Instead of an “A” shaped roof, it was just a strange shape that covered up the building. He also noticed that the windows and facade were disorientated, some looked as though they were built before the 1950s and some are more recent, explaining why they were not unified in the level and shape. David started to prepare a draft plan and make suggestions to rectify them.
We also had teleconferences everyday during the lockdown. David went through the project checklist with us, it was a 22 page document that broke down all of the works into 20 categories from: the roof, wall, finishes, doors, windows, bathrooms, the kitchen, to services such as fire protection, electrical, gardening and external services etc. In each category, we would have around 20-30 items to discuss! So everyday he would give us 2-3 categories and we would research on it before we did the phone call with him, it was indeed detailed and we are very detailed people ourselves as well so we loved it and enjoyed learning a lot from the studying and teleconferences. After going through the checklist, we then moved on to the planning of individual guest rooms in the farmhouse. Originally, the building had 9 bedrooms and 2 apartments, we didn't desire that many rooms, we would rather create bigger rooms and more common areas for our guests to enjoy staying in around the farm. We went through room by room and tried to create something different in each room, from a private garden, a balcony, a tower or special bathroom, this way each time a guest stays with us, they could choose a different room and enjoy different experiences. We also started to write our wishlist, starting with building a portico and an underground cellar!
We have achieved a lot during the lockdown, we can't wait to put everything into plan and start the construction!