At the end of 2010, the newspaper O Púbico ran a report into suspicious goings on at Portimão council where a prime plot overlooking the river Arade had been sold to a company, owned in part by a former vice-President of the council, which mysteriously was granted permission for a development of nearly twice the size of that originally granted.
Looking through the reasoning for granting the larger development, it is clear that a massive fiddle has gone on to the horror of the apartment owners behind the site whose view is due to be severely curtailed, and to ruin the area surrounding the old convent São Francisco.
This valuable river-front land lies alongside the road leading from Portimão to Praia da Rocha, opposite the ruins of the old convent.
The original landowners, Jaqueline Dimas and family, had gained approval for 2,485 m2 of construction and the apartment owners behind the site had accepted this was a suitable size and density and accorded with urban planning rules.
The site was sold in 2004 to Facho Investimentos Imobiliários e Turísticos SA owned by, amongst others, Sr. Fernando Rocha, the president of the local football club who conveniently also had been the vice-President of Portimão council between 2002 and 2003.
The council, then led by mayor Manuel da Luz, cunningly altered the land classification from an Urban Expansion Zone with a COS (the ratio between the construction area and the plot area) of 0.5, the maximum allowed under the Municipal Master Plan 1995 for urban development, to a Consolidated Urban Space with a building density of 1.14 and a total build area allowable of 4,545m2 based on submitted figures that were incorrect, reported O Púbico.
By obtaining permission in 2009 for more building area within the plot area, the value of the development rose significantly to the new owners' benefit and no doubt to the consternation of Jaqueline Dimas and family.
The original plan also included leaving a space between the new apartment blocks to allow the old factory chimney to remain as a focal point from the apartments to the rear, the sea view and a new road also seems to be scrapped in the new plan for denser development.
The planning permission process for the increased number of apartments was picked up by O Público in a report in September 2010.
The first attempt at getting the site reclassified was rejected by the council’s planning department which correctly pointed out that the land was in an urban expansion area (COS 0.5).
The director of the planning department, Agostinho Escudeiro, wrote, "I agree with the urban classification which was applied in 2002 and nobody contested it."
Along comes a specialist architect appointed by Facho Investimentos who earlier had been involved in preparing the council’s Municipal Development Plan (PDM).
The architect formally requested a clarification arguing the land was a "consolidated urban space" and using incorrect density data to back up the objection.
The council president, Manuel da Luz, concluded that the objection was valid even though it bent the rules beyond the law and he approved the application, thus increasing the site’s asset value to the direct benefit of his former vice-president Fernando Rocha, a fellow socialist.
Forward to the current day. The constructor Bemposta currently is busy clearing the site and aims to start building in two months time.
Bemposta has a contract to construct a hotel - the Jupiter Marina - which will be (even bigger than the upgraded planning of 4,545m) at 5,676.40 m2. Remember that the proposed apartment building project from 2009-2010 was for a site that legally should have only 2,485 m2 of built area.
This new hotel will dominate the old convent and devalue the blocks of apartments to the rear as these will cease to have a river view. It will devalue the whole area by blocking views and crowding an historic site.
In 2010, the owners of the apartments all signed a complaint sent to the council outlining their objections to the development, the fact they would have no view left and that their property values will be badly affected.
The council did not bother to send confirmation that it had received the letter, choosing to archive the objections without response.
The Administrator for the largest of the neighbouring apartment buildings (74 apartments) contacted the Left Bloc, the only party opposing to the project, and asked its councillors to bring the matter up in the next council meeting.
As the council so far has failed to put this serious matter on the agenda, it has not been discussed; meanwhile the Jupiter Marina Hotel project is going ahead.
Anxious apartment residents went to the last council meeting but not one councillor raised this urgent matter, and therefore they have had no say in a matter that directly affects their enjoyment of their properties.
A hoped-for compromise seems a distant dream with Portimão councillors not prepared to discuss the background to the enhanced planning permission, the role of Manuel da Luz, the clairvoyance displayed by Fernando Rocha and Co in buying up a development knowing it later could be upgraded, the domination of the new development over the historic convent next door and the legitimate concerns of the apartment owners to the rear whose views will be blocked.
The administration under Manuel da Luz was riddled with corruption and the socialist former mayor’s spending spree contributed significantly to Portimão council’s €130 million overdraft.
Fiddling planning permissions to the financial benefit of former colleagues fits the pattern of behaviour that had dominated Portimão for years but why does the current council under Isilda Gomes, also from the Socialist Party, seem reluctant to talk openly about what went on?
It may be ‘money’ again as the annual municipal rates receivable from a new hotel will help the council’s shattered finances, plus there will be jobs during construction and after the hotel is finished and operating.
Meanwhile, the neighbouring apartment owners are waiting to hear if the matter is tabled at this week's council meeting and an explanation given as to how planning permission was upgraded with the use of erroneous figures and to their clear detriment.