San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A Ceiling on Beachtown Rooftops

An Arias administration decree will put height and density restrictions on construction within four kilometers of the coast in the northwest province of Guanacaste.

The decree essentially an emergency zoning plan will apply only to areas that do not already have zoning plans. It will not be retroactive, and would be superseded by any zoning plan implemented later.

Officials signed the decree Wednesday in a ceremony at the Casa Presidencial.

Environmentalists and local communities have long complained that development in the coastal areas of Guanacaste is out of control, with few zoning plans and little municipal oversight.

Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides said the temporary zoning restrictions will set the rules of the game for the next four years, which is the duration of the decree.

We noticed in the last few years a trend of very accelerated development, Benavides said. It’s development that has gotten out of hand, especially in some places.

The decree breaks coastal land into four categories. Land within 50 meters of the high-tide line remains public property, and construction within that limit is forbidden without special permission, in accordance with the Maritime Zone Law.

The next 150 meters of land is also under the Maritime Zone Law, but use of it can be granted by municipalities through concessions. The decree will limit structures within that strip of land to three stories.

That restriction will also apply to legally titled land within the Maritime Zone.

The 800 meters after the Maritime Zone will be classified as the intermediate zone. Buildings there will not be allowed to rise above 24 meters or a maximum of roughly five stories.

Finally, building heights within the next three kilometers the internal zone will be limited to 36 meters, or approximately eight floors.

The restrictions will not put the breaks on developments under construction now or in the near future. Benavides said all building plans presented to the Federated Association of Engineers and Architects within six months of the decree becoming law will be exempt from the new restrictions.

The final decree wasn’t available by press time, as it does not become a public document until it is published in government weekly newspaper La Gaceta on Monday, at which point it becomes law.

What (this decree) does is put limits for all those (municipalities) that have not complied with their obligation to pass zoning plans, Benavides said.

Construction growth in Guanacaste was down nearly 1.5% last year, but with 1.6 million square meters in new construction for the year, it remained the province with the second largest construction growth in the country after San José, according to the Federated Association of Engineers and Architects.

Tamarindo, in the canton of Santa Cruz, lost its Blue Flag because of sewage from rapid and uncontrolled development.

Benavides said the government plans to extend the measure to the other coastal areas in the country, although for now it only affects Guanacaste.

During the presentation, Benavides flipped through slides of what looked like south Florida, with skyscrapers crowding up to the edge of the water. This is what we don’t want, Benavides said.



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