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Developer Bets on Affordable Beach Housing

FOUR hundred new homes in Playadel Coco, a new hospital near PlayaHermosa, a condo project in Ocotal, 1,200mini-ranches near Río Salto, a new privateairport in Liberia and a Ferrari trainingtrack – the plans of developer GrupoMapache for the northwestern province ofGuanacaste are diverse, widespread and ontheir way becoming realities.The ambitious group also has set itssights south of Guanacaste to the coasts ofthe province of Puntarenas, where companyrepresentatives hope to continue theirunusual development style of buildinghomes and condominiums that cost of fractionof those most developers are advertisingin Costa Rica.Homes and condos as low as $51,000have already sold in the 25-hectare PlayaLas Palmas development, located in Playasdel Coco, Guanacaste. Construction,which began in 2000, is 80% complete andwill be totally finished in the beginning of2006.WHILE Mapache General ManagerCarlos Arroyo boasts that the group’slarge-scale projects allow middle-class foreignersto invest in Costa Rica – an opportunityincreasingly reserved only for thoseable to afford $200,000 second homes –neighbors of Las Palmas are having a hardtime setting out the welcome mat.The project has brought water shortagesfor nearby homes, loud helicoptersand water drainage concerns, according toLeslie Zelinsky-Epling, secretary of thePlayas del Coco Chamber of Tourism andCommerce (CATACOCO).Beyond construction-related issues,Coco residents say they are worried aboutthe long-term impact the Las Palmas projectand at least seven other forthcominghousing projects by other developers willhave on their community.As the Coco population grows, sewageincreasingly becomes a concern because,like most beach communities in CostaRica, no centralized treatment plant exists.While one small hotel developer plansto build a treatment plant into his project,most everyone uses septic tanks, accordingto Zelinsky-Epling, a native of SanFrancisco, California, who came to Coco31 years ago.DAVID Ryan, owner of Hotel VillaFlores, near the Playa Las Palmas development,agreed.“(Playa Las Palmas) will have 400 condoson 22 hectares near the beach. It is not alarge enough drain field for the number ofcondos,” he said. “We have a small hotelwith nine rooms on almost two acres, and wesometimes have problems with drainageduring a lot of rain,” he said.Mapache’s Arroyo, however, argues thatthe trend, particularly in Europe, is towardthe use of septic tanks.“They are recommending each terrainabsorbs its own sewage. Before, in a communityof 500,000 people, all the poop wentto one place. Now everyone deals with ithimself or herself,” he said.Arroyo says long-term concerns of thecommunity are kept in mind duringMapache development projects. They seethe big picture, which is why their developmentplan is so extensive.“WHEN I talk about development inGuanacaste, I’m talking about completedevelopment, as a complete zone, meetingall the needs of the community,” Arroyosaid. “For example, we are about to startconstruction on a private school in the centerof Coco, because there is a need in the area.”“We also donate to public schools,senior-citizen homes; we sponsor awomen’s soccer team, a men’s soccer teamand a baseball team,” he added.Arroyo said he is concerned the complaintsagainst Mapache may stem fromthe juxtaposition of the development’smiddle-class homes (selling for as low as$25,000 south of Coco in Ocotal) againstother elite housing projects booming in thecommunity.“Other developments are by Americansfor Americans. We are their competitionand we are a rock in their shoe. A CostaRican can’t buy their $300,000 homes, andneither can a middle-class foreigner. ButCosta Rica isn’t only for children of rich,”he said.RYAN admits most developers in thearea have agreed to a higher-end development.But, he adds, other projects are causefor concern as well.“Mapache is not the only concern; weare looking at probably seven or eight projectsthat might be as large or larger thanMapache. It has been a boom since theinternational commercial flights startedcoming into the Liberia airport,” saidRyan, who has been living in Coco threeyears. Delta Airlines brought the first regularinternational flight to the DanielOduber International Airport in Liberia inDecember 2002 (TT, Dec. 6, 2002).The constant construction for years onthe 400 homes in the Mapache developmenthave made its potential effects on thecommunity more tangible, he added.Fears such as water shortages and drainage issues (because of increased concrete)have already become realities in theMapache project, he says.Now, Ryan and Zelinsky-Eplingworry the houses down-pipe from thedevelopment, which are periodically leftwithout water from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. duringconstruction, will suffer in the longterm.“The water line that supplies the northernpart of Coco is only about 3-4 incheswide; so if you put 400 more houses on it,there just won’t be the pressure to make itwork,” Ryan said.ARROYO acknowledges water accesscould become a problem for the community.However, he maintains Grupo Mapachehas followed all of the rules of the NationalWater and Sewer Institute (AyA).“In the context of all the developers onthe coast, I am not anybody, for all of theseproblems to fall on me, “ he said. “It willbe very difficult to solve the water problemsin the entire coastal zone if the governmentdoesn’t intervene.”Until then, developers in the Coco areacan work together to invest the $600,000Arroyo estimates it would take to solveCoco’s medium-term problems, he proposed.OTHER complaints against theMapache development are also unfounded,according to Arroyo. Natural drainagehas never been altered, rather pipes wereinstalled to direct an overflow of rainwater on the road in front on the projecttoward the ocean, Grupo Mapache said ina statement.The helicopters, called bothersome byneighbors, were used to bring importantpeople, such as Discovery Channel representativesand Social Christian Unity Partylegislator and presidential candidateRicardo Toledo, to the area to promoteCoco, Arroyo said.Neighbors say the helicopter flights arebeing made without proper permissionfrom authorities, while Arroyo counterssaying the helicopters are landed on privateproperty. Civil Aviation Authority representativesdid not return The Tico Times’repeated requests regarding the legal statusof the flights. Other tourism developers inthe area also use helicopters.The periodic helicopter flights maybecome a permanent part of the Guanacastelandscape, according to Arroyo. TheMapache Group plans to build three heliportsin Liberia, Coco and farther south inFlamingo.Helicopters would also serve the medicalcenter the Mapache Group plans tobuild between Coco and Hermosa, whichArroyo said will be “one of the highest classhospitals in Central America.”WITH long-completed housing projectsthroughout the Central Valley andGuanacaste as well as restaurants and agriculturalproduction, Grupo Mapache isexperienced in a diverse array of fields,Arroyo said.Along with the three heliports, thegroup has plans to build a new airport forprivate planes near the Daniel OduberInternational Airport in Liberia.Arroyo says this is just part of thedevelopers’ vision of meeting communityneeds. Demand for private plane facilitieswill outgrow those of the Liberia airport,even if it is expanded, he said.The developers are also hoping to capitalizeon a more obscure internationalneed by providing a training ground fordrivers of the luxury sports cars Ferrari andLamborghini.“Training in Italy and France is veryexpensive and they can’t do it in winter. Sowe are negotiating building a 3-km track inGuanacaste, where it is cheaper and drier,”Arroyo said.THE Mapache Group sees a future inthe interior of the Guanacaste provincefor its residential communities as well,which until now have been mostly alongthe Guanacaste coast and in the CentralValley.In the works is a large housing projectsoutheast of Liberia in Río Salto. Theplanned “equestrian community” will consistof 1,200 homes on 500 hectares,Arroyo said.“We are thinking of all the foreignerswho are looking for a little property butdo not have a lot of money, who with$20,000-30,000 can enter a communitynear various waterfalls, between variousrivers, with forested areas and all the services.They can live like campesinos,with horses, cows, pigs, chickens,” hesaid.Grupo Mapache was formed in the1970s as a family business with roots incorn and pig farming. Today it continuesto be a family company but now consistsof various family-owned companies, eachwith a particular focus such as construction,property management, vehicle rentaland construction equipment managementand rental, explained Francisco Alvarado,president of Grupo Mapache.FINANCING for the group’s projectsoriginally came from bank loans; howeveras more projects have been developed, presalesin homes and condominiums havecreated funding. In this way, investors canparticipate in development by, for example,pre-purchasing 20 homes for later sale,Alvarado explained. Bank credit is alsostill used in some projects.Other Grupo Mapache projects are inthe works for the central Pacific portcity of Puntarenas, where small condoslocated 50 meters from the sea will beoffered for $50,000, and farther southalong the coast near Quepos and ManuelAntonio.Mapache will eventually make its waydown to the Southern Zone as well, Arroyosays, but not before a major airport, now inthe planning stage (TT, May 27), is built inthe region.“I think we have enough going on inGuanacaste and Puntarenas,” he said witha smile.


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