In the next eight to 10 years the map of Lebanon will include a completely new village. BeitMisk, the new residential community located in the northern Metn region, is one of many newly-launched projects which affirm the country’s increasing attractiveness for real estate investment.
BeitMisk will cover 655,000 square meters and include apartment buildings, villas, penthouses, a country club, gardens, recreational areas and retail, offering its residents and visitors a home away from the cities’ pollution and traffic.
The $800 million project is unique in many aspects. The developers say the new village will use renewable energy and have environmentally friendly wastewater treatment facilities. Sustainable and green building materials will be used in construction, and some 70 percent of the development will be green space. BeitMisk will also blend historical and modern structures. Work is underway, construction has started and so have sales.
The BeitMisk project is owned by Renaissance Holding, of which the majority shareholder is Georges Zard Abou Jaoude — who is also the chairman of the Lebanese-Canadian Bank. It is 60 percent financed by Abou Jaoude himself and 40 percent by Banque Libano-Française (BLF). Emaar Lebanon, part of Emaar International Development — a subsidiary of the Dubai-based Emaar Properties — is the developer, while the Lebanese architectural company Erga Group did the architectural studies.
BeitMisk is not as cutting edge as Abou Dhabi’s Masdar City, but it will include several green-building and sustainable initiatives.
“We will be very close to the LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] standards,” says Nabil Zard Abou Jaoude, chairman of Renaissance holding and managing director of Emaar Lebanon, who spoke with Executive on behalf of Renaissance. He explains that buildings will have double-insulated walls, excellent insulation for the roofs, and will use solar energy to decrease electricity consumption.
“It is not a marketing tool, but when you go into high specs, you are automatically very close to LEED,” says Nabil Abou Jaoude.
Anthony Sfeir, BeitMisk’s project coordinator at Erga Group, explains that the plumbing system, for example, will be separated into grey and black water, of which the grey will be recycled and used for irrigation. The project will also have a sewage treatment plant, where all the wastewater will be recycled and reused. “We will not be dumping waste effluent; we are treating everything,” he says.
Construction and sales break ground
So far, the only building constructed at BeitMisk has been the sales office, which will later be turned into a country club. In mid-July, sales began for the first phase of the project, which will see the construction of nine buildings with 72 apartments. Four of the buildings have traditional designs and five are modern, according to Nabil Abou Jaoude. He says that so far, some 32 percent of the units have been sold.
“It is better than expected,” he says, adding that he expects 80 percent of the units will be sold by year’s end. “I thought that just for the first two to three days, we will have some people interested and then only two to three clients per day… but we have a lot of potential clients.”
According to Georges Abou Jaoude, apartments start selling at $1,650 per square-meter, while townhouses start at $2,100. The prices of villas have not been determined yet since they need to be specifically designed before pricing. Apartments offered range between 177 and 330 square-meters, according to the sales office.
“These prices are launching prices; I expect them to go a little bit higher later on,” says Georges Abou Jaoude, adding that the target buyers are basically Lebanese. He expects only around 8 percent of the project will be sold to foreigners.
Construction of the first phase is expected to start at the end of the year, after all the permits have been obtained, irrespective of the units sold. Each phase is supposed to take up to two years.
“The first $100 million is already there, and the financing of the first and the second phases is already secured,” says Georges Abou Jaoude.
A sentimental value
Nabil Abou Jaoude say Renaissance is lucky to have found such beautiful land where they can develop a whole new town. The Northern Metn also holds sentimental value for the family since its roots come from that area.
Georges Abou Jaoude, formerly an architect before becoming a banker, also carries high hopes for this project.
“I want [Beit Misk to be] the most beautiful village in Lebanon, and maybe in the world.”
But with many of Lebanon’s high mountains already spoiled by poorly planned development and half built concrete homes and apartment buildings, is the unspoiled upper Metn really a place to build a suburban neighborhood?
BeitMisk may be advertised as environmentally friendly, but the fact that construction will destroy a part of the forest did not render environmentalists very enthusiastic. Wael Hmaidan, executive director of IndyAct, a league of independent environmental, social and cultural activists, says that BeitMisk will destroy the natural habitat and the ecosystem of a big part of the mountain forest.
“There will be plantations rather than a forest ecosystem. You cannot compare it. The dynamics are different,” Hmaidan says. “A tree does more than give oxygen. It is a habitat, a house and an eco-system.”
Garaved Kazanjian from Greenpeace agrees with Hmaidan. He says that the organization does not support these projects, but has no capacity to pursue every development that threatens what is left of the Lebanese natural wealth.
For the same reason, Hmaidan says that campaigning against any single development is a lost cause. What should be done is to reform planning policies in Lebanon so developments would not be allowed if they threaten the sustainability of Lebanese forests. “We can continue like this until we don’t have a single forest in Lebanon,” Hmaidan says. “Or we can create urban planning and a system to benefit all levels of society.”
Georges Abou Jaoude says the BeitMisk project will blend with the local area’s environment. “We will be planting 200,000 trees in the development and a little bit around it,” he says, adding that only some 25 percent of the project will be built-up area.
A small walk around
So far, only the master plan of the project has been designed. The construction will be divided into phases, each being a neighborhood, and each phase will have its own final design. Buildings, villas and townhouses will be surrounded by gardens and plantations, while biking and walking paths will also surround the whole project.
“People will be able to see many views as they are walking. At one point they are looking at Beirut, then the sea, then they will be looking at the mountain to their right as they are walking,” says Georges Abou Jaoude.
Most of the buildings will have three floors; only apartment buildings will have four floors. Villas will be provided with two to three parking spaces each, and two for every apartment building — even visitors will be provided with public parking spaces. Roads will also be designed to minimize cross-town traffic.
“The project has been designed by Erga, so there is a traffic engineer who worked on that,” says Nabil Abou Jaoude.
BeitMisk will also be divided into two parts. The upper part, which includes the villas and the townhouses, will become a closed community — although that decision is not final, says Nabil Abou Jaoude.