It is known across the world for its soaring skyscrapers and colossal malls.
But the UAE’s latest major development has been deliberately designed as an alternative to the urban jungle.
Jubail Island, between Saadiyat Island and Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, is to be transformed at an estimated cost of Dh5 billion, it was announced on Monday.
It is planned that within four years, the currently spartan setting will become home to 5,000 to 6,000 residents, who will live across six newly-built ‘villages’.
And while a trend of falling rents may point to a plentiful supply of homes in the capital already, developers insist their plans will offer something unique, not just in Abu Dhabi but for the whole country.
The island will see the heights of buildings strictly controlled, with no villas higher than 15 metres. A series of other features, such as landscaped walkways and cycle paths, have been designed to lure in nature and fitness enthusiasts.
“It’s everything that [the UAE skyscraper image] isn’t,” said Richard Russell, chief operations officer at the Jubail Island Investment Company (JIIC).
“It’s all very controlled, low-rise structures with inter-connectivity between the neighbourhoods. This is a very low-density development. It’s probably the lowest density on the UAE, if not the region.
“We’ve done quite a bit of homework, already reached out to the market, and seen quite a bit of interest because this project really isn’t like the others.
"It’s quite unique the way it’s laid out and integrated with the environment. There’s discovery, wellness, creativity and activities, it’s not a downtown urban development.
“There are ‘green fingers’ connecting the neighbourhoods together, through walking, bicycling, not driving.”
The first plots for homes will be available for handover at the start of 2021, Mr Russell said, with new residents free to build their own homes as long as they fit with certain conditions such as a maximum heights and using approved building materials.
Alternatively, new residents can pay developers to construct a home for them, choosing from several designs.
Other properties are to being built by JIIC itself.
Plots range from 1,500 to 5,000 square metres, which will be home to villas of between 300 and 1,200 square metres. Overall it is planned that 800 homes will be constructed, along with two schools, a beach club, sport centres, six mosques and, in a town centre, apartments, a hotel and office space. However, the tallest building will be only 10 storeys tall. There are plans for shops although they will not be in a mall development, but instead built along a high street.
Expats, as well as Emiratis, will be eligible to purchase the properties. Operators are being sought for the hotel, schools and other commercial premises. Earthworks on the island are already underway with a rapid period of construction about to begin.
However, even after the project is finished, only around 10 per cent of the island’s 4,000 hectare surface will have been built upon.
Jubail is earmarked as Abu Dhabi’s ‘nature and nurture’ centre, with Saadiyat the arts and culture hub, Yas designed for leisure entertainment and Abu Dhabi island for commerce and trade.
“The mandate was to respect the natural qualities that we have on the island,” said Mahmoud Dandashly, sales director at JIIC. “This came from our senior management and the authorities.
“The low density allows us to provide a lot of greenery, there are a lot of open spaces, and has allowed us to have big plots which is something that is very much requested.”
Mr Dandashly said interest had been high, even ahead of the formal launch, particularly among Emiratis.
“In the UAE social structure, the family is very important, the family likes to live among each other,” he said. “One of our clients wanted to construct a main villa for the family, and later on, when the kids grow up, he wants to add villas for his children. We are having a lot of interest like that.
“We also have three brothers interested in living next to each other. The nice thing is we are providing the flexibility for such requests.
“[The villas] have been designed respecting the Emirati way of life. At the same time, we offer some units for expats who want one big living space. We have multiple designs.”
At a press conference on the island to announce the launch of the development, Mounir Haidar, the project’s managing director, said Jubail would offer a “unique quality of life” to residents.
“The breath-taking development will significantly enhance the capital’s market offering for quality properties,” he said. “Jubail Island will offer investors well-priced and sizable plots in a low-density community surrounded by spectacular natural elements, such as beautiful waterfronts, beaches, mangroves and neighbourhood parks.
“A five-hectare heritage site, where pottery and other relics of early civilisation that have been discovered on the site will be on display, is set to be another key attraction.”