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Confusion over Concessions in Samara:
Is City Hall or the ICT Responsible?

By Arianna McKinney

Anyone looking for a concession or requesting a building permit for land in the maritime zone of Samara Beach will likely run into frustration and find their hands tied until a new regulatory plan is approved, which could take another year or more. The holdup is causing problems for area residents and businesses, including Intercultura, a language school that recently constructed a new building in Samara.  

Domingo Arias Bonilla, a resident of Samara, recently denounced Laura Ellington, director of Intercultura and Samara Language School, for building without construction permits or a concession. According to the Denuncia, Arias had inquired in the Municipality as to whether Intercultura has a written concession and permits for construction, but was denied the information, giving him the impression that illegal construction was being tolerated. Juan Carlos Oviedo Quesada, Maritime Land Zone coordinator for the municipality, affirmed that they investigated the accusation and found no new constructions, just replacing the roof of an existing structure. However he said that Intercultura is facing difficulties in renewing their concession because of the state of the regulatory plan.

What's Stalling the Concession Process?
Even though the municipality continues to follow procedures to approve concessions, Oviedo estimated that it has been about a year since the ICT (Costarican Tourism Institution) has approved a concession for Samara beach.

The municipality is primarily responsible for processing requests for concessions, but a concession cannot be granted without approval from ICT, Daniel Retana from the Nicoya office of ICT clarified. "On the other hand, requests can't be processed if a valid regulatory plan does not exist for the coastal maritime zone."


Rodolfo Lizano, Leader of Macroprocess Planning and Development for ICT, explained that the revision process is active the moment that ICT receives a file from the municipality and that the concession process can't be suspended unilaterally by ICT. "The problem is that, in accordance with a communication from the municipality, the regulatory plan, maintained for granting, halting or extending concessions, is out of date. This makes it impossible to evaluate the files sent. In other words, one of the necessary conditions for the concession process, within the framework of Law 6043, is not being fulfilled, which is the existence of a regulatory plan for the coastal zone in question."

Although technically a regulatory plan does exist for Samara Beach, it is deemed by ICT to be outdated.

Issues with the Regulatory Plan
The current Regulatory Plan for Samara was approved in 1981, but since then the coastline has shifted. In 1998, new boundary markers (mojones) were placed to revise the demarcation of the maritime zone, the 50 meters of public area where no construction is allowed and an additional 150 meters where concessions can be granted. Hence the existing regulatory plan no longer coincides with the physical landmarks for the 200 meters of maritime land zone.

A combined integrated regulatory plan is to be prepared for Samara and Carrillo by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT-Costa Rican Tourism Institute) and the municipality, but progress is slow.

Lizano said that the proposal for the regulatory plan was approved by the directive council of ICT on May 5, 2009 and was then turned over to INVU (Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo) for revision. In September of 2009, representatives from INVU and the Municipality of Nicoya performed a field inspection. The plan currently continues in the revision stage, and Lizano indicated that they do not have a definite period of time for when the new plan will be ready.

Oviedo realistically admits that it will be a while before the regulatory plans being prepared for beaches in the canton of Nicoya are approved. July 2012 or later seems likely. For now, Oviedo said the maritime land zone department can't do anything.

Intercultura's Dilemma and Denunciation
Ellington expressed her frustrations over the situation affecting Intercultura and others who live or operate businesses in Samara's maritime zone. "The ICT and the municipality have been planning a new regulatory zone since forever, and the municipality keeps saying it's waiting for the ICT to approve the new plan, but the ICT says that they are just advisors and that the municipality is responsible for the plan. This leaves all the concession holders hanging, wondering if they are going to lose their concession and unable to apply for building permits.

Intercultura has been in the process of applying for an extension of its concession, but Ellington said that since files were lost by the previous municipal administration, they now have to renew their old concession by requesting a new approval instead of a regular extension. They await approval; and the situation was recently aggravated by the denunciation made by Arias.


Arias says that he has denounced several people who don't have concessions for actions that affect the regulatory plan. He thinks it's unfair that "the little people of Samara, poor people," people like him and his children who live on land in the maritime zone have not been granted concessions that they requested more than 20 years ago and therefore can't get construction permits, while he's observed foreigners arriving with money and receiving concessions because there are benefits involved.

Ellington offered a list of benefits that Intercultura provides to the community, including providing income for over 50 local families and 20 local employees, as well as generating patronage for local businesses throughout the year via the 1000+ clients who come to learn Spanish and participate in the local culture. Intercultura also offers some free educational and enrichment activities and supports volunteer projects and community initiatives such as renovating the police station.

"So when one local family tried to tell me that I'm doing bad things by changing a roof where the students sit on their breaks, I really have to wonder what their true motivation is," Ellington speculated. "The local associations have all pledged us their support, as has the Nicoya office of the ICT and the mayor."


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