San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

West Valley Town Faces Schisms, Growth

FOR the past five months the atmospherein the Municipality of Santa Ana canbe described as nothing short of chaotic –juggled mayors, fights among councilmembers, approval of projects that may goagainst regulations, and desperation for anew regulatory plan.As new construction projects in thetown southwest of San José, just beyondEscazú, continue to develop, this chaos iscausing concern among municipalemployees and residents alike.The mayhem peaked last month whenelected Santa Ana Mayor Ronald Trañareturned to his post. He had resigned inMay, saying it was because the MunicipalCouncil did not grant him a temporaryleave of absence.Deputy Mayor María Vargas, who theSanta Ana council selected to fill Traña’spost, refused to accept his return.THE Municipal Council voted 4-1Oct. 12 for Traña’s return, and now somecouncil members and municipal employeesblame Vargas for worsening theupheaval within the municipality.In one example, Municipal EngineeringDirector Soraya de Souza claims thatVargas, during her stint as mayor, obligatedher to approve an uso del suelo, or zoningpermission, for a project she believesis in violation of the municipality’s regulatoryplan.Vargas did not return several phonecalls from The Tico Times requesting aninterview on the subject.As head of the engineering department,de Souza must sign zoning permissions,which can only be granted by themunicipality, not by the municipal council.THE project Villa Real II, as it iscalled within the municipality even thoughit is registered under the name KamaesaS.A., has been requesting zoning permissionfor more than two years in an areadesignated as protected under the regulatoryplan, de Souza said.However, Pablo Gordienko, aKamaesa associate and project engineerfor the original Villa Real residential project,maintains Villa Real II does not fall ina protected zone.The regulatory plan consists of a writtencomponent and a graphic representation,which, according to Gordienko, weremade years apart and are incongruent.According to the written text of the plan,Villa Real II is not in a protected zone, hesaid.The project’s zoning permissionrequest came before the publication of thegraphic representation, he added. He saidobjection to the project is politically motivated.Villa Real II is a 4.5-hectare gatedcommunity with at least 27 lots, somealready sold. It will be connected to theexclusive Villa Real, which boasts a communitycenter, pool, tennis courts and vast“green areas” (TT, Aug. 23, 2002).THE zoning permission request wentthrough a series of rejections and appealsbefore its approval last month, when deSouza signed it at Vargas’ request, deSouza told The Tico Times.The engineer said she recognizesCosta Rican laws can hold her liable forsigning the permission, so she latersigned a statement saying she believesthe zoning permission is in violation ofthe regulatory plan, at the advice ofMaría Lourdes Villa, of the municipality’slegal department.According to de Souza and Villa, withinso-called protection zones, the regulatoryplan permits multi-family residentialand commercial projects – such as apartments,malls and hotels. However, homesor condos on individual lots are notallowed, prohibiting the Villa Real II project,Villa said.“It has no logic. It’s called a protectionzone. But that is what the regulatory plansays. It’s totally illogical,” she said.DE Souza, Villa, Mayor Traña and theMunicipal Council all agree Santa Ana isin desperate need of an updated regulatoryplan, which dictates the type of constructionallowed in different areas and providesan overall vision for the community’sdevelopment.The existing plan was written in 1987and reformed in 1991, long before theForum office park, nearby hotels, restaurants,shopping centers, supermarkets andother developments sprang up.“At this moment the regulatory plan iscompletely obsolete. It doesn’t correspondwith reality anymore, to the type of developmentthat comes into Santa Ana,” deSouza said.Sectors classified as agricultural zonesno longer correspond to such use and 8-10hectare plots of land have been left as“artesian zones,” although that is “nolonger the reality of Santa Ana,” sheadded.HOWEVER, the Municipality ofSanta Ana has been unable to acquire thefunding to rewrite the plan, although it isin the process, Traña said. Once workstarts, it will take at least two and a halfyears to update the plan.A regulatory plan is particularlyimportant as growth surges on Santa Ana.“There has been a very large expansionin the last five years, and requests forpermits of all types are coming,” de Souzasaid.Most interest has been in residentialand commercial development, althoughthe municipality does not have exact dataon how much construction has taken placein recent years, because the local governmentdoes not have a computerized systemto record such data.They are beginning the process ofcoordinating such information, de Souzasaid.PROJECTS such as the Forum businesspark and Hacienda del Sol residentialcommunity have emerged along the mainhighway corridor. Hacienda del Sol consistsof 115 lots – 103 of which were soldin pre-sale – and is expected to be completedin February 2005.More than half of the development inthe area has come from foreign investors,de Souza said.“Expansion is happening to the eastand west (of San José). The country isgrowing. There is large immigration.People like the climate here and SantaAna is also attractive because there arestill large plots of land. It’s very attractiveto people who want to build largeresidential communities and malls,” shesaid.The engineer predicts the growth thatstarted in Escazú will continue along thecorridor to Ciudad Colón and beyond,along the highway that will one day offerfaster access from San José to the Pacificcoast.LONGTIME Santa Ana resident JerryRuhlow, publisher of Costa Rica Outdoorsmagazine for more than 12 years, is notworried Santa Ana will see the kind ofexplosive growth evident in neighboringEscazú.“It has been more of a gradualgrowth,” he said. “Most of the developmenthas been along the highway, butonce you get off the main road, our SantaAna is still our Santa Ana. It has growntremendously, but no doubt it has kept alot of the charm that brought us here.”Ruhlow said the municipality hasdone a good job of keeping infrastructure,such as roads, water and electricity,in pace with development, and thegrowth has brought needed employmentto the area.WHO will lead the community and itsdevelopment decisions into the next twoyears remains up in the air.The Supreme Election Tribunal (TSE)has said Traña can remain in the mayoralseat while it determines the status of hisresignation.Traña said he decided not to step downless than two weeks after he resigned lastMay. He said he was urged by his constituencyto return, and sent a letter to theelection tribunal, indicating such.The tribunal did not respond untilSeptember, at which point they asked ina letter if he was still interested in resigning.The municipal council received acopy of this letter, at which point theybecame aware of Traña’s desire to return,a point the were previously unaware of,according to council member MireyaRomero.The council then held a vote Oct. 12 toreinstate Traña. The tribunal will make afinal decision on whether Traña or Vargasis the mayor within weeks or months,according to tribunal president LuisAntonio Sobrado.THE status of the Villa Real II residentialproject also remains up in the air,as Traña has vetoed the zoning permission.The veto will be presented to theInstitute for Housing and Urbanization(INVU), de Souza said.Meanwhile, Kamaesa officials are inthe process of acquiring the remaining permissionsnecessary to begin construction,according to Gordienko.

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