San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Escazú Aims to Curb Growth

MORE than seven years and hundreds of buildingsafter it was originally proposed, municipal officialssay the Escazú Regulatory Plan is weeks awayfrom final completion.Aiming to curb the area’s rapid growth – whichhas literally rocketed toward the sky – the zoning planis a precise document that intends to regulate all newconstruction. It limits buildings of more than four storiesto a handful of areas in this upscale suburb southwestof San José.Nearly everyone agrees Escazú is in desperate needof some sort of comprehensive approach to development,which it almost entirely lacks. The delay sinceUniversidad Nacional professors originally wrote theplan in 1996 has been in ironing out the details.A special commission has been reviewing the latestversion of the urban plan since May. Commissionmembers are considering whether to include or rejecteach of the 60 motions for change made by the public.By the end of the month, the commission will turnthe final version over to the Escazú MunicipalCouncil, which will then submit it to the NationalInstitute for Housing and Urbanization (INVU). Onceapproved by INVU, the Escazú Municipal Councilwill take a final vote.If approved, the zoning plan could go into effectby October.For some, this is too late.“In the past eight, ten years, Escazú has grown andgrown with no order. There are no sidewalks andthere is so much traffic people can’t walk. It is so frustrating I’m leaving the country. I’m movingto Chile,” said Roxana Kop, a Ticawho has lived in Escazú for 46 years.“I have really tried to open up people’sconsciousness on how important it is tosave this place, I know it can be better,”she said.UNTIL the plan is implemented,development in Escazú has only to follownational laws regulating urban development,under the Greater Metropolitan AreaPlan (Plan GAM).“Right now all we have are the GAMregulations and those allow tall towerspractically anywhere,” said Escazú municipalarchitect Garrett Kotter.In an effort to prevent a flood of constructionpermit applications under theselenient rules, Kop presented the municipalitywith a petition signed by more than 400Escazú residents requesting a moratoriumon permits until the Regulatory Plan isimplemented.Kotter said such a request is impossible.He said approximately 50 approvedbuildings averaging six stories are in variousstages of planning for Escazú. Oneyear ago there were 25 such buildings andtwo years ago there were ten, he said.KOP argues most of these buildingsare not necessary. She claims Escazú realestate is already operating at dangerouslevels of vacancy.“Growth is a very natural thing, butwhen there is a lot of unusual, unnecessarygrowth, one starts to think,” she said.Kop and others at a public meeting inMay said more public opinion and evaluationof the present situation in Escazú isneeded before a plan determining the city’sfuture is approved.“This plan is not perfect, we know,”Kotter admitted. “But it is a question of anemergency. Plan GAM allows everything.As soon as (the Escazú zoning plan) isapproved, we will begin revising it.”UNDER the proposed plan, height limitsvary by area. Buildings of more than eightstories are allowed in six areas of Escazú, primarilyaround the Multiplaza shopping malland the Costa Rica Country Club.In commercial corridors along the oldroad to Santa Ana, west of Escazú, and thePróspero Fernández Highway, which connectsSan José to Ciudad Colón, buildingsare limited to 14 meters (56 feet), approximatelyfour stories, with the exception ofthe aforementioned areas.The commission originally considered a six-story height limit for the eastern halfof the Próspero Fernández Highway, however,objections by residents provokedchanges, according to Kotter.The taller a building, the larger its lotmust be, and the greater amount of greenspace it must have under the new plan. Forexample, an eight-story building can cover30% of its lot. The remaining 70% must begrass or trees. A ten-story building cancover no more than 25% of its lot, with75% green areas.BY comparison, under Plan GAM,buildings in urban areas are allowed tocover 75% of their lots, providing 25%green space.Under the proposed zoning regulation,Escazú’s residential areas fall under low,medium, high and high, high density.In low-density areas, lots must be atleast 600 square meters (6,460 square feet)and allow a single home with no more than50% building coverage. In medium-densityareas, such as Guachipelín and north ofSt. Mary’s school, lots must be at least 400square meters (4,300 square feet) and 60%building coverage is allowed.In high-density areas, such as TrejosMontealegre, lots must be at least 200square meters (2,150 square feet) and 70%coverage will be allowed. High, high-densityareas are those that already existbeyond these limits and where no new constructionwill be permitted.While these regulations will limitincreased density, they will also limit thenumber of lower-income residents inEscazú, Kop said.THE Regulatory Plan also attempts toaddress traffic issues. The principle streetadditions planned are from the countryclub to Cima Hospital and extending theMultiplaza Boulevard to the road toGuachipelín.In addition, the Regulatory Plan callsfor the redesign of Escazú’s Central Park.University of Costa Rica students areworking on the design. No other parks arementioned in the plan.The plan does seek to protect the hillsof Escazú from development. Very limitedconstruction is allowed, for picnic areasand other facilities, according to Kotter.“This is important not just for the peopleof Escazú, but the entire metropolitanarea,” he said.Only about half the cities within thegreater metropolitan area have regulatoryplans. However, most of the rest areexpected to approve plans within the nexttwo or three years, Kotter said.More than 350 Escazú residents attendedthe May meeting, he added, while mostmunicipalities draw barely 20 residents totheir regulatory plan meetings.For more info on Escazú’s zoning plan,see

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