x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dubai Jumeirah Village Circle: will it be unbroken?

Dubai Jumeirah Village Circle should already be a bustling neighbourhood of villas, shops and landscaped greenery. Instead, because of the credit crunch a few years ago, it remains unfinished – yet the economic pick-up means all that may soon be changing.

Jumeirah Village Circle has been incomplete since the credit crunch but now developers are moving back in to clear sites and build more homes and shops.
Jumeirah Village Circle has been incomplete since the credit crunch but now developers are moving back in to clear sites and build more homes and shops.

Dubai Jumeirah Village Circle should already be a bustling neighbourhood of villas, shops and landscaped greenery. Instead, because of the credit crunch a few years ago, it remains unfinished – yet the economic pick-up means all that may soon be changing.

It is easy to find Anne Jackson's villa, because it is the only home on her street with grass outside.

"I'm hoping everyone else will be inspired and copy me," she laughs, gesturing at the stretch of sand in front of the other townhouses.

It is not just the only patch of greenery on Mrs Jackson's street but also one of a handful in Dubai's Jumeirah Village Circle - named because the 860-hectare plot sits like a circular island surrounded by Al Khail Road, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road, and Hessa Street.

The plan for the original development, then called Jumeirah Village South, was first announced in 2004 by master developer Nakheel.

It featured a central park with different developments veering off like pizza slices including offices, villa complexes, apartment blocks, parks, waterways, community centres, schools, supermarkets and even a European-style tram work.

But that was before the credit crunch hit. With much of the work outsourced to private developers, several projects were abandoned and nine years on, it appears unfinished.

Unlike Jumeirah Village Triangle across Al Khail Road - where landscaping work has gained apace - there is little greenery. Instead villas and apartment blocks are interspersed with abandoned construction sites and wasteland.

"I picked this villa because there was meant to be a community park at the front," says Mrs Jackson, who bought her property off-plan seven years ago, moving in 18 months later than scheduled in 2010. "We just presumed it would it would be like the Arabian Ranches and the Springs."

Instead of a park in front of her home there is a large area of desert, littered with construction waste and rubbish.

At the back, there is another rectangular patch of sand where a development that went bust was meant to sit but despite construction sites and portable cabins surrounding her, Mrs Jackson is unfazed.

"You're really watching history being made. That's the nice thing about Dubai, it's always changing,' she says. "I don't worry about what can be built around me."

According to Nakheel, who oversaw the master plan as well as building 615 villas of their own, change is coming. The developer recently sold 122 villa plots to private investors and say they had a healthy response to their own launch of 90 Jumeirah Circle Villas, the construction of which was tendered out earlier this week.

"Jumeirah Village Circle is a growing community within Dubai, " says Nakheel spokeswoman Rebecca Rees. "As master developer, Nakheel has completed all infrastructure, including roads and street lights, and has handed over serviced plots to third-party developers. The third-party developers complete their individual projects to their own timelines."

Sixty buildings are already occupied and 13 towers, buildings of 10 floors or more, are either finished or nearing completion. Design applications for a further 47 buildings are also under review.

While residents are thrilled by the introduction of street lights last December and roads and roundabouts have replaced the dirt roads they used to navigate over, they are puzzled by the recent appearance of two circles of palm trees.

"Nakheel is bringing 13 parks - already under way - to Jumeirah Village Circle," explains Ms Rees. "The master plan also includes provision for community centres, schools etc, and these will evolve as demand and population increases.

"Two of the parks each have two lines of trees, with a jogging track to be constructed between them. Planting at one park was finished a month ago, the second will be completed this week. We are soon to award a contract for the jogging tracks."

Despite the lack of lifestyle facilities in place right now, the Circle, like the rest of Dubai, is seeing rent rises.

Prices for three-bedroom Mirabella villas have risen from Dh75,000 to Dh120,000 and one-bedroom apartments are up by Dh10,000. With prices rising in more established communities such as Emirates Hills, Arabian Ranches and the Green Community, there are a queue of tenants looking for affordable options.

"A friend of mine wanted to move from the Ranches but she couldn't find anything," says Mrs Jackson. "Everything that is liveable is being lived in and, if it's not, then there's a queue of people waiting."

Sulaiman Intekhab, 26, from India, has rented a studio at Diamond Views 2 for two years. He says he moved in because it was quiet but, at Dh24,000 a year, it is also a cheap option for a central Dubai location that has Mall of the Emirates 10 minutes drive away and Safa Park 15 minutes.

As a result, despite the unfinished feel of the area, a community is forming.

"It's much friendlier here," says Mr Intekhab. "When I lived in areas like Discovery Gardens, nobody said hello, whereas here because there is only sand around us, people mix more."

Visit the Circle in the late afternoon and dog walkers are dotted around areas of wasteland, office workers race to the handful of local supermarkets to grab last-minute dinner items and children play behind apartment and villa complexes on bikes and scooters.

For Mrs Jackson's two children, aged 10 and 7, it is the perfect lifestyle. "They come in, throw their stuff down and head straight out. All the kids are outside on the sand playing football," she says.

"People go to Early Learning Centre to buy sandpits and we've got a huge one at the back. The mums stand watching at the gates so it's very sociable and I've got to know all the neighbours."

Nearby, two apartment blocks house Atlantis Hotel employees and the area is abuzz with activity thanks to a supermarket, taxi rank, and two salons serving their needs.

Pakistani Chander Obale, 52, an engineer, has lived in the block for two-and-a-half years.

"I have seen massive changes," says Mr Obale, who shares his one-bedroom apartment with his wife, a housewife, in a building that offers internet access, a gym and swimming pool as well as a 24-hour shuttle bus to the hotel. "When we came here there was no traffic and only one supermarket. Now there is lots of traffic and several supermarkets.

"There is more of a community feel and it's very secure. I can go out for a walk and leave the door open."

Nearby, hair stylist Arman Clete, 36, sits outside the Gents Barber. The salon opened a year ago with three stylists, and hired another three just four months ago to meet the growing demand.

"We get a lot of people from the Atlantis coming as well as residents from the wider community," says Filipino Mr Clete. "On our busiest days we make Dh2,400 and there has been a big increase in business as more people move in."

Next door at Beauty Saloon, Indian manager Lata Jethra, 50, says business has also picked up since she first opened in July last year.

She recently moved to a Mirabella villa from Jumeirah Lakes Towers with her three staff.

But although she attracts up to 15 clients a day, earning the business Dh25,000 a month as opposed to the Dh15,000 they initially brought in, she says it is not enough.

""Most of the earnings go on rent. The villa is Dh120,000 so that's Dh10,000 a month for that, Dh10,000 for shop rent and then there's salaries. I'm almost working for free."

Elsewhere in the Circle, grocery stores, a dry cleaner and a Jotun Paints store have opened with restaurants and a hotel rumoured to be opening soon.

Staff at Wadi Al Aman grocers, which opened 14 months ago, now make 10 home deliveries a day.

"It is still a quiet area," says shop assistant Nizar, 31, from India.

He lives within walking distance in the Emirates Garden apartment block - something he fears may change because of rising rents - and says many customers struggle because there are no taxis or buses despite bus stops recently installed, so they cannot leave the area.Other grumbles include power and water shortages and difficulty accessing the community as only two gates off Al Khail Road are currently open.

"We've had more that 10 power cuts in a year and one time we had almost no water for a week. I had to go to the laundry to wash my clothes and shower at friends' houses," says Mr Intekhab.

Another Mirabella villa resident Rhian John, 37, says construction waste littering the area is a hazard for families.

"There's lots of sites boarded off. The development was started with huge foundations dug and then stopped during the financial crisis. It's almost like a graveyard of concrete and steel," says the British mother of three who moved to the area a year ago. "Children are curious. There was an incident where a neighbour's children went into a block of flats being built and were walking inside the shell because nothing stopped them getting in."

Mrs John's decision to move to the area was based purely on price.

The family downsized from a Dh230,000 Green Community villa to the Dh86,000 they pay now over job worries but she says she is embarrassed to invite friends over.

"We don't tend to have people round," she says, "because there is no landscaping, everything gets covered in sand. The house is lovely but the environment is not.

"It's a practical, functional place where I keep my clothes - but I can see the Burj Khalifa from my living room though."

For Mrs Jackson, who has lived in the UAE for 14 years, the outlook is different. "I moved into the Gardens in Dubai when they were first built and it was in the middle of the desert," she says. "Then suddenly it was a short walk to Starbucks and I loved living there."