Master of placemaking

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 6, 2017 - November 12, 2017.

We want to create a unique personality for the township for the residents to enjoy.” — Abdul Sahak

Abdul Sahak (third from left) with The Edge Media Group publisher and group CEO Ho Kay Tat, City & Country editor Rosalynn Poh and EdgeProp.my managing director and editor-in-chief Au Foong Yee

Phase 2C offers a well-planned road system with cul de sacs, pocket parks and green open spaces as well as a 50m wide road reserve

The resort clubhouse

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Winner | Horizon Hills, Phase 2C | Horizon Hills Development Sdn Bhd (50:50 JV between Gamuda Bhd and UEM Sunrise Bhd)

Set in 1,200 acres of rolling hills, lakes and valleys, Horizon Hills is the first low-density, gated-and-guarded residential township with its own 18-hole championship golf course in Iskandar Puteri, Johor.

Over the past 10 years, the township has earned a reputation as an affluent resort-style township in the region. This year, Horizon Hills has added another award to its collection, namely The Edge Malaysia-PEPS Value Creation Excellence Award 2017 for Phase 2C. The township also won the award in 2012 and 2014.

Behind the master-planned township is Horizon Hills Development Sdn Bhd, a strategic joint venture between UEM Sunrise Bhd and Gamuda Land, the property arm of Gamuda Bhd.

Gamuda Land executive director Datuk Abdul Sahak Safi tells City & Country, “As a town maker, we want to create places for people to call home … that they to want to be a part of and grow old in. And the key to master-planning such a township is placemaking.”

“It is about creating community spaces, laying out parks and lakes that surround each neighbourhood and designing beautiful streetscapes with a town square that can draw people. We want to create a unique personality for the township for the residents to enjoy,” he adds.

Launched in January 2012 and completed two years later, the 10-acre Phase 2C comprises 177 units of 2-storey link houses and has a gross development value of RM156 million. The houses come in two layout types with built-ups of 3,162 and 3,087 sq ft. Units were sold from RM831,800 each, with monthly maintenance and sinking fund fees of about RM186.

According to Abdul Sahak, the houses have appreciated by 50%. Recently, a 3,162 sq ft intermediate unit (with land area of 2,080 sq ft) was sold for RM1.3 million and a 3,087 sq ft corner unit (with land area of 4,800 sq ft) changed hands at RM1.6 million, he says.

In terms of rental, a basic unit can fetch around RM2,500 and a furnished one, around RM3,000, says Horizon Hills general manager Jim Woon. Yields range from 3.6% to 4.3% per annum, he adds.

Woon notes that Phase 2C performed better than other precincts in the township in terms of sales and take-up rate. “We received an overwhelming response during the launch, due to its three-tier security system and low-density neighbourhood surrounded by greenery,” he says.

The phase has a well-planned road system with cul de sacs, pocket parks, green open spaces and a 50m-wide road reserve, adds Woon.

In addition to a long driveway and car porch, the units boast a contemporary design, are mostly arranged in a north-south orientation and come with big fenestration to allow in more natural light and ventilation. The houses boast a spacious master bedroom, generous wardrobe space and an internal courtyard. Construction quality is benchmarked against the Construction Industry Development Board’s Construction Quality Assessment System (Conquas).

Phase 2C currently enjoys 60% occupancy — 70% of whom are local residents and 30% foreigners, who are mostly Singaporeans.

The phase is part of a 74-acre precinct known as The Hills, which is located at the highest point in the heart of Horizon Hills and comprises a mix of residences ranging from link homes to cluster homes to bungalows.

“Property in The Hills is designed to get maximum views of the golf course and greenery,” says Abdul Sahak, noting that 45% of the precinct’s terrain is retained as green spaces.

The precinct’s three-tier security system includes a residents-only entrance, 24-hour security patrol, CCTV, perimeter surveillance and a fully integrated alarm system with a panic button.

Award-winning township

The success of Horizon Hills lies in its overall planning. “We listened to what the land was telling us. It was about getting the places and community right,” says Abdul Sahak.

According to him, gullies and low-lying areas were transformed into the golf course while the residences were built following the natural contours of the terrain, allowing each hill home to have a panoramic view of the green surroundings.

“This innovative approach not only ensures a much smaller carbon footprint but also helps optimise cost and energy efficiency,” he notes.

Pocket gardens, streams, lakes and canals are woven into the landscape. Green open spaces include thematic gardens, manicured fairways and a meandering 30km jogging and cycling path.

In addition to the three-tier security system, the township also adopts the crime prevention through environmental design approach (CPTED).

Residents enjoy a wide range of amenities and facilities, including the 200-acre golf course and the 150,000 sq ft resort clubhouse that has an Olympic-size swimming pool, children’s pool, gymnasium, yoga and dance room, table tennis room, tennis court, grand ballroom, café & restaurant and reading room. Taekwando classes are also held there. A badminton court will be completed next year.

Within the township is a commercial area — which has a variety of food and beverage outlets, a neighbourhood grocer, clinics and a fitness studio — and schools such as a Chinese national school, kindergartens and a child care centre.

In the pipeline are an international school, primary trust school, secondary trust school, petrol kiosk, transport transit/points and hubs. According to Woon, Gamuda Land will continue to improve the township. “Even in completed precincts, we continue to add value, such as extending walkways to connect the precincts, providing bicycle lanes and free WiFi zones.”

“We have a property management team that looks into defects rectification and ensure that the township continues to be well-maintained,” he adds.

To sustain value in the long term and ensure good capital growth, a township also has to be in a good location, says Abdul Sahak. Horizon Hills is part of the Iskandar Malaysia master plan, a catalyst of growth under the 9th Malaysian Plan. It is accessible via the North-South Expressway, Malaysia-Singapore Second Link, Skudai Expressway, JB Parkway (Perling Expressway), Iskandar Coastal Highway and Pasir Gudang Highway. It is 25km from Senai International Airport and 20km from Tuas Checkpoint.

Nearby amenities include education institutions (Newcastle University, University of Reading, University of Southampton Malaysia Campus, Management Development Institute of Singapore, Multimedia University, Malborough College Malaysia, Netherlands Maritime Institute of Technology, Raffles University Iskandar, Raffles American School and Johan Cruyff Institute Malaysia), shopping and entertainment establishments (Johor Premium Outlets, AEON shopping centre, Giant hypermarket, Komtar JBCC and Johor Bahru City Square), theme parks (Legoland, Hello Kitty Family Theme Park and Puteri Harbour) and medical institutions (Columbia Hospital and Gleneagles Medini Hospital).

Despite the soft market, sales have been good at Horizon Hills as the demand for landed properties continues to remain strong, says Abdul Sahak. “We believe Iskandar Malaysia will remain attractive due to its proximity to Singapore, high job creation and migration growth rates, good infrastructure and generally accommodative investment policies.

“As Horizon Hills will continue to deliver good homes in a well-maintained and exclusive environment, we believe this will help us ride through the current challenges. Our winning formula is in our development philosophy,” says Abdul Sahak.

Horizon Hills, which has a total GDV of RM7.2 billion, is currently 60% developed and the remaining projects with a GDV of RM3 billion will keep Horizon Hills Development busy over the next 10 years.