San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arenal Report

North American investors planning to take advantage of the dearth of condominiums at LakeArenal were stopped in their tracks Aug. 10 by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), which ruled in favor of Arenal’s nonprofit environmental watchdog, the Fuentes Verdes Ecological Association. Fuentes Verdes, with a recurso de amparo lawsuit, had denounced the TilaránMunicipality, the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) and the National Technical Secretariat of the Environment Ministry (SETENA) for allowing the mammoth Maleku Condominiums project to proceed when it seemed that water and waste resources were inadequate and the hillsides possibly unstable. The court annulled SETENA’s 2008 and 2009 resolutions approving the project and ordered that SETENA within four months make a new environmental impact study.

In great contrast to the concrete forests of condos in resort communities along the Pacific coast, many of them incomplete hulks, Lake Arenal has just a couple of small condo buildings, the largest, with five condos, near Tronadora.

So, understanding that many northerners would like condos rather than houses at LakeArenal, the developers from Tree, Four, Five, S.A., bought hillside land with wonderful lake and Arenal Volcano views. An early plan was to put 16 buildings housing a total of 315 condos along the hillside. Though only two buildings have been constructed – incompletely, at this point – the imposing structures dominate the pastured hillsides.

As the project got under way several years ago, residents understood that Maleku Condominiums would be almost wholly self-contained, with sewage treatment and recycling reducing the need for imported water. At that time, huge trenches had been dug and about a dozen boxcar-sized concrete vaults were waiting to be interred as part of the self-contained system. (A minor variation on this green theme was the composting toilet already installed in the thatched-roof Maleku village buildings at the foot of the development.)

Perhaps the project does have a formidable waste disposal or recycling system, but, as for the water, shortage in the Tejona area has always been a problem, and residents speculated as to how the project would address it. Now Fuentes Verdes has succeeded in bringing that question to the Sala IV, and the developers have four months in which to prove the project is environmentally sustainable in reality.

–Alex Murray

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