President Laura Chinchilla’s administration presented a bill to the Legislative Assembly this week proposing a one-year moratorium on demolitions of properties built within 200 meters of the coastline.
The bill, if approved, could prevent the destruction of thousands of homes and businesses across the country.
Costa Rica’s Maritime Zone Law defines all land 50 meters from the high-tide line in coastal areas as public land and prohibits construction in that zone. The area from 50 meters to 200 meters is considered restricted, but municipalities are allowed to issue concessions to certain developments.
The law, which was passed in 1977, aims to protect Costa Rica’s beaches from over-development and environmental degradation. Recently, though, the Comptroller General of the Republic ordered the demolition of properties found in the restricted zone in regions across the country.
A statement issued by the Presidency Ministry read, in part: “Despite long periods of occupation and use of these territories, in many cases, the occupation and use has been without a state-issued concession. This, coupled with the nature of the land has led various state agencies to promote processes of eviction of families and demolitions of buildings that are in this situation, triggering a serious social problem by leaving these families without roofs over their heads and, in many cases, without access to employment to feed themselves.”
Some 13 properties in and around the southern Caribbean coastal towns of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, in just one example, have been ordered destroyed by the end of November. Much of these two towns are built within the restricted zone because they were built before 1977, when the Caribbean coast was only accessible by boat. Thousands of other family homes and businesses could be threatened in all coastal regions across the country if the 1977 law is strictly enforced (TT, April 20).
Other properties found in the area near international borders face similar issues.
“Obviously the process of territorial zoning isn’t done overnight,” said Vice President Alfio Piva, who has opposed the demolitions. “Hence, the urgent need to find a temporary solution so that optimal measures can be taken for zoning these areas. The Judicial Branch proposes that during the span of one year, no evictions, destruction or demolitions of works or projects in the maritime zone, border areas and protected areas of the states take place.”