San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Inching Ahead, Jacó Zoning Plan Creates 25-Story Limit, ‘Tolerance Zone’

Eight years after first being proposed, urban Garabito’s zoning plan (plan regulador) is crawling forward and could be approved by the end of the year.

“I hope it will be approved before the end of the year because it is very important for Garabito,” said Marvin Elizondo, mayor of Garabito, the Central Pacific canton whose capital is the popular and booming beach town of Jacó. “I think the impact will be very positive, because Garabito is a canton that has grown quickly but in a disorderly manner. This plan is the fundamental pillar in the canton’s development. Everyone in the community sees it as positive. It is a necessity.”

The plan covers the town of Jacó and other urban areas within Garabito, namely Guacalillo, Tárcoles and the beaches of Hermosa and Herradura. With the intent of organizing, regulating and directing the canton’s future development, the plan will, among other things, impose zoning restrictions, establish limits on the size of high-rise buildings and establish a special “tolerance zone” where all future adult entertainment establishments will be located.

“The zoning plan is a municipal document that aims to order land use in

Garabito,” explained Roi Castellón, a geographer charged with overseeing the plan for the municipality. “The idea is for there to be consistency among tourism, residential and commercial activities. The goal is a balance among these types of activities.”

The plan has a broad support base within the community.

“Jacó has a lot of conditions that give it the potential to become a great coastal city,” said Juan Carlos Rodó, manager of the Best Western Jacó Beach Resort and the Central Pacific Chamber of Commerce’s representative with the commission that studied the draft of the zoning plan. “This is a moment that Jacó, as a town, a municipality and a business community, should seize. If we do this correctly, this could be a great city within the next 10 to 15 years.”

Navigating the Bureaucracy Jacó is home to 16,000 of Garabito’s 20,000 permanent residents. To this is added a mostly foreign seasonal population of 7,000 to 8,000 who own property but reside only part of the year here, as well as the 3,000 to 4,000 tourists who visit the city each day, according to estimates by the GarabitoMunicipality.

The plan was first proposed eight years ago, but stalled. It was brought back to life in 2006 after a new mayor and municipal council took office. A special commission presided over by Elizondo, with active involvement from the local private sector, took on the task of thoroughly studying the plan, which was presented to the municipal council in December 2007.

“This process helped make it into a plan that really serves the community,” Rodó said. “The plan is appropriate for Jacó’s needs. It really lays out a nice future for the city.”

Last July, the plan passed a review by the municipality’s legal department. It is currently being reviewed by the National Institute for Housing and Urban Development (INVU), the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) and the National Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry (SETENA).

These institutions will issue nonbinding recommendations that may be incorporated into the plan. Once the plan is updated, public hearings will be held to inform the public of the plan’s contents. In addition to the legally mandated hearing in downtown Jacó, the municipal council plans to hold smaller hearings in Garabito’s main communities.

After the hearings, if there are no major disagreements, the municipal council will vote on the plan, said José Miguel Villalobos, the council’s legal adviser.

The current plan is the first of a twophase plan. The second phase will cover land 500 meters to the east of, or inland from, the

Costanera Highway


The Details (For Now) Under the current version of the plan, there will be three types of commercial areas.

Commerce geared primarily toward tourists will be located on the city’s main strip, Avenida Pastor Díaz. Commercial establishments geared toward the local population will be centered on the streets that connect Jacó to the

Costanera Highway

. Larger commercial and semi-industrial activities incompatible with residential development will be situated on the

Costanera Highway


High-rise buildings combining residential and tourism facilities will be allowed on the strip of land between Avenida Pastor Díaz and the ocean. Smaller residential highrises will be promoted in areas on the Jacó side of the

Costanera Highway

with the intent of preventing further congestion in central Jacó. These areas will also be allowed to house commercial developments. Areas across from the highway, near the mountains, will be designated as “sustainable residential zones,” meaning there will be strict limits on the types of homes developed there. The idea is to make them relatively low-density with a great deal of green space.

Castellón defines the plan’s stance on high-rises as “tolerant.” Buildings in residential tourism zones will have a 25-story limit, regular residential zones a 20-story limit and commercial establishments a five-story limit.

For zoning purposes, stories are defined as four meters high.

“High-rises will have a maximum coverage of 60 percent of the property they occupy,” Castellón said. “We want buildings that are taller and more compact.”

Beach condos will be required to set aside their ground floors for commercial activities. With the goal of decongesting Avenida Pastor Díaz and making Jacó a more pedestrian-friendly city, incentives in the form of exemptions from construction taxes will be offered to developers that include public parking within their buildings.

Ten percent of the units in these buildings must be condo hotels and as such be subject to municipal hotel taxes. It is common for developers to define units as apartments but rent them out like condo hotels, thereby avoiding these taxes, Castellón said.

The “tolerance zone” hosting casinos, night clubs, erotic shops, massage parlors, tattoo shops and other adult entertainment activities will be located near the landfill, north of town. These types of activities will no longer be allowed elsewhere in urban Jacó.

Locales currently offering such activities will be allowed to remain in operation, but will be unable to expand or remodel, Elizondo said.

The plan also lays out a general framework for developing Jacó’s road network in an orderly manner. The plan is to gradually promote and fund the expansion of some of the side streets that feed into Avenida Pastor Díaz. This will give the city a more traditional grid shape, Castellón said.


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