x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Luxury oasis lures wildlife

More than 170 families - and thousands of butterflies, birds and ladybirds - have taken up residence in a sustainable community dominated by botanical gardens and open space.

There are 1,800 varieties of trees, plants and flowers and 16 square kilometres of lakes and waterways at the development.
There are 1,800 varieties of trees, plants and flowers and 16 square kilometres of lakes and waterways at the development.

DUBAI // More than 170 families have moved into new multimillion-dirham luxury villas in a Ned Al Sheba oasis dominated by landscaped botanical gardens and open space - and they are not alone.

Thousands more inhabitants have also flocked to the Al Barari development off Emirates Road - butterflies, birds and ladybirds.

Attracted by the 1,800 varieties of plants, trees and flowers and the 16 kilometres of lakes and waterways, they have taken up residence in the sustainable community that is the realised dream of the Zaal family.

And the entire Zaal family now lives in the development, designed to be a world-class address that is also a celebration of nature.

"In my opinion, this is the only place in Dubai that has a soul, and it's the only place I can really enjoy myself," said Mohammed Zaal, chief executive of Al Barari. "I leave my house, and I go for a walk in the gardens. I hear the birds, see the water, and bump into my neighbours and have a chat. That's paradise."

With six-bedroom villas ranging in price from Dh14 million to Dh30m, paradise comes at a cost. Nearly all of the 189 villas, which come in 96 varieties, have been sold.

"It was difficult to create a luxury development and still be conscious of the environment, but I think nowadays it can work, and this is proof," Mr Zaal said. "Being environmentally conscious does not mean you have to be a tree-hugger. You can enjoy the finer things."

Only 20 minutes from Dubai's downtown, Al Barari could not be farther away from the skyscrapers and crowded malls of the city

About 80 per cent of the 1.3 million-square-metre project is allocated for open space and gardens. All of the plants were raised in the development's nursery, the largest privately owned of its kind in the region.

Henry Raven, the general manager of the nursery, which will soon open to the public under the name Greenworks, said about 750 plants are being cultivated. Mr Zaal's father, Al Barari chairman Zaal Mohammed Zaal, is known for picking out plants while travelling.

"The evaluation process is based largely on a combination of research and educated guesswork," Mr Raven said. "Some species that should theoretically thrive in the region don't, whereas others which shouldn't grow seem to thrive."

Each evening, residents can be seen jogging or biking along the pathways in six of 34 planned themed gardens. More than 150 workers take care of the gardens, which are overseen using a "low-maintenance method" that encourages natural growth. Visitors and residents will be able to join a health spa, practise yoga on the lawn and enjoy organic meals at The Farm restaurant before strolling through a park where flowers from Thailand grow next to trees from the Middle East. Cinema nights for children are hosted in a common area shaped like a leaf.

"This is what it's about," Mr Zaal said. About 70 per cent of the homes were purchased before construction began. Potential buyers view the sustainable and green elements as an "added bonus", he said.

Phase 2 of the project will open the gated community to the public with a boutique hotel and commercial and retail space. Initial plans to develop apartments on the site are under review. The businesses that will occupy the space have not yet been decided, but there is at least one prerequisite.

"We definitely don't need any more malls," Mr Zaal said. "We don't want to scare away all of our natural residents so soon. Or the human ones."

jthomas@thenational.ae