With reporting from Riham Sheble
People in Qatar may soon see more shops and office buildings pop up in their neighborhoods, as the government relaxes restrictions on businesses operating in residential areas.
In a significant shift in Qatar’s approach to urban planning, the Ministry of Municipality and Environment said this week that it’s allowing some villas, annexes and outside majlis areas that are on or overlooking commercial streets to be licensed for business use.
The areas included in the ministry’s “experiment” are:
- Madinat Khalifa St. in Madinat Khalifa North;
- Rawdat Al Khail St. in Nuaija Gharb and Nuaija Sharq;
- Al-Furousiya St. in Madinat al-Murra;
- Al Wajba St. in al-Rayan al-Jadida;
- Umm Salal St. in Umm Salal;
- Umm Qarn St. in Umm Qarn; and
- Simaisma St. in Simaisma.
This week’s announcement appears to be primarily aimed at allowing property owners to extract more value out of their land, as the government said it wants to allow families to stay in their homes while receiving some financial benefit.
The ministry did not say what type of commercial activities would be allowed on residential properties, leaving it unclear whether the move would create more shops and consumer-oriented businesses or lead to additional office space options for businesses.
Real estate experts said converted villas are popular for office tenants in part because there are limited options available for private businesses looking for small amounts of space.
Historically, many commercial landlords have preferred to try to lease entire floors to a single tenant, rather than subdivide their space.
Segregation vs. integration
While many villas around Doha are currently used as office space, particularly around C-Ring and D-Ring roads, the announcement still represents a shift in attitudes toward urban planning from only a few years ago.
Previously, there appeared to be an inclination among some government officials to segregate residential areas from businesses.
Up until 2013, the government had been attempting to force thousands of grocery stores, barber shops and other small businesses out of residential areas and into designated commercial complexes, although the country’s cabinet ultimately decided to extend their licenses.
Meanwhile, one of Qatar’s top architects has called on urban planners to apply the concept of integrating residential and retail space that’s being used in the Msheireb redevelopment to existing neighborhoods.
“Within downtown, (land uses) should be mixed … This solution has been discovered decades ago. You divide the city into communities to where it becomes sustainable within itself,” Ibrahim Mohamed Jaidah, the CEO and chief architect of Arab Engineering Bureau, told Doha News in 2014.
In a related amendment, the ministry said it would reduce building setback requirements – effectively allowing structures to be constructed closer to the street – and relax height restrictions.
It argued that more high-rises in popular parts of Doha would help ease rental rates and lead to more affordable housing.