San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Development Project Touts Low-Impact Living

TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – In this fastgrowing beach town in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, residents are battling to define what the booming development in the area will mean for the community. Condo projects have sprung up, creating labor jobs and big profits, and changing the once-pristine landscape of the lush pacific coast.

One new development project is promising to turn the traditional notion of a luxury resort/condo experience on its head.

Called the Tamarindo Preserve, the project is promoted as an ecologically focused development that will bring residents closer to the nature that surrounds them while protecting the area’s natural environment, specifically the large estuary the Preserve surrounds.

The Tamarindo Preserve is “the antithesis of the conventional gated and manicured resort,” says a promotional booklet for the project. “The Preserve’s master plan, amenities, trail systems and homes are designed to harmonize with, rather than dominate, the environment.”

The project encompasses more than 500 acres of forests, hillsides and former ranchland, and approximately 190 acres of wetland, home to 12 endangered species. Only 8% of the land, however, will be developed, said Derek Main, a U.S. citizen who is the principal developer of the project, along with his father, Bruce Main, also from the United States.

“We’re assuming that the people who buy in want to embrace nature and not stand out from it,”Main said.

As Main and the project’s architect Richard Müller, a Costa Rican, took a driving tour through the property on a sunny afternoon in June, the developer professed a personal love for the trees that fill much of the property, and says that as construction begins – set to start in November this year –every effort will be made to save as many of them as possible.

Most of the residences – either 3,000-square-foot or 4,000-square-foot houses on lots ranging from 3,600 square feet to 13,000 square feet – have been planned for one of three communities called The Point, Hilltop Village and The Forest. Another set of houses, however, will be built on larger plots of three to five acres in the area known as The Ranchlands. A limited number of gravel roads link the communities to each other, to Tamarindo and to amenities such as a spa, shopping center, restaurant and nature center.

The U.S. firm Hart Howerton, famous for its work designing resorts and developments in ecologically sensitive environments, designed the project’s master plan, said Tamarindo Preserve sales representative Bob Wilson, a U.S. citizen.

“They showed us we could do this with 266 residences, as opposed to the 900 the experts said we needed,”Wilson said.

Hart Howerton also gave Müller the design principles and concepts that incorporate the buildings into their surroundings, the architect said.

For the most part, residences will not be built on hilltops. One hill had already been logged before they acquired the land, so some residences will be set between swaths of trees. When the hill is seen from a distance, it will maintain its consistent forested look from bottom to top.

“Our architecture is inspired by the landscape and what we really want to do is have the architecture disappear,” Müller said.

In addition, many of the homes will be built on stilts, rather than directly on the ground. This allows for less invasive construction, especially when building on hills, Müller continued.

“You can have a house with six-foot poles in front and eight-foot poles behind. This allows you to adjust for different land levels without scraping the ground flat,” Müller said.

“There’s also a practical reason: critters,” Main added.“When you go to bed, you go up into the trees and they stay on the ground.”

The roads in the Tamarindo Preserve will be kept gravel and narrow – one lane, with turnouts – in order to limit vehicle traffic and encourage alternate means of transportation, such as bike riding and walking,Main said.

The developer added he originally hoped to completely prohibit motor vehicles from with the Preserve, but said his marketing people told him, “you’re crazy.”

These and other efforts to keep the project environmentally friendly are part the Tamarindo Preserve’s long-term goal of “stewardship” of the land, according to the developers.

A percentage of the monthly homeowner’s association fees will be put into a fund that will finance preservation efforts through the newly established Tamarindo Conservancy, which the Tamarindo Preserve will endow with a percentage of its sales.

Homeowners will also be limited in what they can do on their property. With the exception of areas for a driveway and gardens, much of the land on the plots residents purchase cannot be developed further: the earth cannot be turned and the trees cannot be felled. On the ranchlands, landscaping will be limited to a quarter acre.

One of the most important aspects of the project, Main emphasized, is the protection of the wetlands. The Tamarindo Preserve encompasses the estuary, which was all deeded land. Developers, however, have donated all of the estuary property to the Tamarindo Conservancy for protection.

The wetlands are home to 12 species on the international endangered species list, sales representative Wilson explained, including the American crocodile, the brown pelican, the great black hawk and the yellownecked parrot. The estuary also includes some mangroves.

The Preserve’s sales office will eventually be taken apart, moved to the edge of the estuary and donated to the Conservancy to be used as an interpretive center offering information about the wetlands and it’s the wildlife. A naturalist will also be on staff at the center to lead guided tours. Access through the estuary will be limited to various paths, boardwalks and suspended walkways.

The paths and interpretive center are for residents, but another target, the developers said, are Costa Rica school children.

“People need to see it to appreciate it,” said Main, referring to the wetlands. Currently, developers are only beginning to offer to friends, family and former clients a chance to buy in.Wilson said that the project would officially be launched Nov. 1. Prices, Wilson said, currently run between $495,000 to $4 million, depending on the size of the lot.

For more information on the Tamarindo Preserve, see the Web site, or call 653-2929.


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