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Development in High Gear at The Pacific Beaches

by Garland M Baker on June 7, 2004

But there does not seem to be an overall plan

Just a sampling of potholes and the real estate offices beside them

Everyone up and down the coast of Guanacaste is getting ready for the real estate boom, all except maybe the Costa Rican government.

With few exceptions, most of the important thoroughfares are in very bad condition. As one traveler put it, “car-sized potholes” are everywhere.

After one gets used to the “bumpy bump” of the roads and seeing car parts falling from their vehicle like in an old Charlie Chaplin movie, one notices all the new real estate offices, which are everywhere. This is especially true in Nosara and Sámara.

The new Puente de Amistad built by Taiwan and the Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia are the major reasons for this land explosion. Now tourists can hop on a plane in the United States and land in Liberia, Costa Rica. In a matter of hours they are surfing on one of the great Guanacaste Pacific surfing spots. One such surfer was overheard last week talking to a buddy on Wall Street, via a local phone, saying he left New York in the morning and was surfing in Nosara before sunset.

In addition to real estate offices, beautiful houses are growing out of the jungle like trees. Land is being subdivided and condominiums are being built for those who gravitate to Costa Rica. They range from the plain old naturalists to the yoga meditation set.

Guanacaste is becoming like Aspen, Colorado, but for the summer set. Those who love to grab a plane to go skiing in one of the world’s most popular spots, also are coming to Costa Rica for its natural beauty. Many speculative investors can see the writing on the wall, and that is why there are so many of them in Guanacaste building houses for those yet to arrive.

The Costa Rican government seems to have left Guanacaste without a development plan, except for the Papagayo Project in the far northwest.

One of the major problems seems to be that there is no realistic property tax base. Taxes are hated by all, but they are a necessary evil in development. Taxes are currently 2,500 colons (about $5.90) for every million in tax value. There are properties worth $200,000 whose owners pay $50 a year or less because of the way such values are calculated.

Slowly this is changing. The municipalities are trying to update their records, but many factors stand in the way: Lack of personnel, lack of computers, lack of correct information from the Registro Nacional, Costa Rica’s countrywide public records center. But most importantly the municipalities lack money. This results in a vicious circle because the money comes from the tax value, and this value is under reported, on purpose, by everyone who prepares a property sales contract in Costa Rica.

All the progress in Guanacaste is really sweet sorrow. This area of Costa Rica, 30 years ago, was really the paradise everyone talks about, untouched and undeveloped. The boom happening on the Pacific coast today will be great for the economy of the country as well as very beneficial for the little communities in that area. But progress without a development plan could be a disaster waiting to happen.

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