San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tamarindo Group Is Down But Still in Game

TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – Residents here are voicing concern over strains that growing development has placed on the community and the environment.

Once accessible only by boat, Tamarindo, on the northwestern Pacific coast, is now considered a bona fide surf city, rife with the growing pains characteristic of urban expansion.

Its setting in the middle of Las Baulas National Marine Park, a leatherback turtle nesting sanctuary, has made development especially tricky.

The Tamarindo Improvement Association (APMT), a community group and the area’s only governing body, has tried to get a handle on the problems but so far, with little success.

The outlook turned cloudier last month, when the association announced it was nearly out of money. It can no longer afford to rent office space and lacks volunteers to staff its headquarters, which were once located on Tamarindo’s main street.

Undaunted, some APMT members are continuing an effort to create a zoning plan, or plan regulador, to regulate future development.

The proposed plan is led by Hector Chavarría, an architect with the National Institute for Housing and Urban Development (INVU). The APMT is currently looking to raise $10,000 for an Environmental Fragility Indices study of the area, the next step in the plan’s evolution.

Yet the plan’s primary obstacle has been the lack of developer participation. “I’ve been here for 35 years,” said APMT member Bock Menking. “And now we’re moving into the Dark Ages until developers step in.”

Ken Gonyou, the only local developer present at the meeting, noted that in North America, developers are bound by local municipalities and planning commissions to budget money for improvements to infrastructure.

“It’s the cost of delivering the product,” he said.

However, this is not the case in Tamarindo, where infrastructure is far behind development. The most pressing issue is the lack of an operating sewage treatment center. In January, the Health Ministry closed down 11 businesses and reprimanded 65 others in an effort to curb coastline contamination (TT, Jan. 11). In March, eight area beaches lost lost their ecological Blue Flag designation, a national symbol that recognizes uncontaminated beaches.

“We were in this terrible crisis,” said Menking. “And now everyone thinks that it’s OK. But nothing has really changed.”

According to Gonyou, there are about four to five developers who have contributed to development of local infrastructure, but they have mostly been “fighting fires.”

“It is more lucrative for investors to develop in sync with the environment,” noted Walter Hoevel, a local resident and association member. “It is security on their investment. Why ruin what brought them here in the first place?”

Gonyou blamed “hit and run” developers for a major part of the problem. These are investors interested in making a quick profit over the short term. “As a long-term developer, you don’t want to pay for infrastructure improvements so that others can make a quick profit without contributing.”

“The best thing that has happened is the economy,” said Menking, referring to the current lull in development caused by the worldwide economic downturn. “That has been the most beneficial thing for the environment.”

Gonyou, who was a city planner in Canada, agreed that a zoning plan would be beneficial, but also noted complications.

“We’ve had a sophisticated system in North America that has evolved since the 1930s,” he said. “Here, there’s not the same expertise.”

The APMT still meets on the first Friday of every month at 4 p.m. at Las Baulas Pizzeria in Tamarindo.


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