Site visit: Al Zahia, Sharjah, UAE

Paromita Dey visits Al Zahia, Sharjah’s first gated community, to find out how the development’s second phase of construction is progressing, and when the project is likely to complete

Site Visits

When a family moves into a new house, they expect a safe and secure environment for their children, basic community facilities on their doorstep, and an easy commute to their places of work. Al Zahia, Sharjah’s first gated, mixed-use community, claims to fulfil all of these requirements, and aims to create a new era for residential communities in the Emirate.

Al Zahia is one of the main projects within the portfolio of Sharjah Holding, a strategic partnership between the Government of Sharjah and Majid Al Futtaim (MAF) Properties. Sharjah Holding was established in 2008 in line with the vision of HH Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, member of the Supreme Council of the UAE and Ruler of Sharjah; and under the guidance of HH Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, and HE Majid Al Futtaim, founder and president of MAF Holding.

Located between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and University City Road, the Al Zahia community is in close proximity to Sharjah University City, Sharjah International Airport, and Sharjah Airport International Free Zone (SAIF), and boasts major road links to Dubai and the northern Emirates.

Al Zahia will offer a range of studio, one-, and two-bedroom garden apartments ranging from 49.2 sqm to 95 sqm, three- and four-bedroom townhouses, and five-bedroom villas. The development will take place across seven phases, and will ultimately become home to 12,000 residents. With an expected completion date of 2019, the project will occupy an overall area of 130ha.

Phase 1 of the project, which comprises 365 villas, was handed over to residents during the first quarter of 2014. Approximately 1,200 construction workers are currently working on site to complete Phase 2, which is due for handover in June of next year.

Lee Tabler, executive director for communities at MAF Properties, tells Construction Week: “We are on schedule with the construction of 197 units in Phase 2. We have sold approximately 90% of it.”

In addition to residential units, the community will cater to the commercial needs of Sharjah’s business sector, with 24 boutique villas being offered as a part of Phase 2. The villas will be located on the perimeter of the development, allowing investors to establish commercial activities.

Tabler says: “We haven’t placed them in the market yet for sale, but we are going to very soon. There has been a substantial interest in our commercial villas, we will be presenting them to the public in the coming weeks.”

The commercial villas, he explains, will be targeted at small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as opposed to large-scale manufacturing ventures.

The main contractor for Phase 2 is Al Qabdah Building Contracting. Khatib & Alami is the main consultant, Al Reyami is responsible for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) activities, and Asphalco is conducting infrastructure works.

Phase 3, which is currently at the stage of design, will comprise 233 villas and townhouses. Tabler reveals: “We have sold 90 units in Phase 3, construction for which is set to start at the beginning of 2016.

“We have already tendered the contract for this phase; the award will be declared later this month,” he adds.

At present, the project is open for sale to GCC and Arab nationals on a freehold basis, in accordance with Sharjah’s legislation. However, Al Zahia is in the initial approval stages of a process that – if successful – would allow ownership for non-Arab nationals.

In Tabler’s opinion, it is only a matter of time before this process is completed. “We have our initial approvals in place. We are waiting for the authorisation from the Municipality and the Sharjah Real Estate Regulatory Authority. We expect [approval] soon; probably before 2015 ends.”

Retail facilities will become the community’s recreational focal points. Those behind Al Zahia have planned a diverse mixture of options to meet residents’ needs, according to Tabler.

“We have 3,500 sqm of retail space within the community, [and] a range of food and beverage outlets as well,” he explains, adding that MAF is planning to develop Al Zahia City Centre on a plot of land adjacent to the residential community.

“We are going to announce it soon to the public. It will be right next to our garden apartments,” Tabler reveals.

A raft of new project launches are transforming Sharjah into an attractive investment location for regional and international investors alike. Al Zahia represents the first community project for Sharjah Holding and MAF Properties JV. It is being touted as a high-end, but affordable, development. Its backers claim that the community will serve both to create jobs for those living in Sharjah, and stimulate the economy of the Emirate.

Tabler says that MAF plans to transform Al Zahia into a brand, and use it to expand further into the Emirate’s real estate market.

“The relationship is a long-term, strategic partnership between the Government of Sharjah and MAF Properties. The goal is to expand into Sharjah with community living. We will not look into other Emirates until we have created a very successful brand [here].”

MAF exhibited its project portfolio at Cityscape Global 2015, which took place in Dubai in September. In addition to Al Zahia, the developer showcased Al Mouj Muscat and Waterfront City in Beirut, Lebanon.

“We aim to create a community living brand. Our [properties] are reasonably priced, and I believe the market has always received [this] positively,” Tabler concludes.

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