THE balance between development and preservation is a challenge that city planners, environmentalists and politicians struggle with around the globe. Here in Costa Rica, the balance is struck between those pushing to develop this developing country further – specifically the tourism infrastructure – and those striving to preserve the natural beauty for which it is so famous.One of the ways governments try to maintain this balance is through the use of zoning and, either by law or with reward incentives, encouraging people to set aside what are called green spaces – areas of land left untouched, preserved or uncultivated.In city planning, green spaces can brighten up a gritty concrete-gray existence, give children and pets a place to play, raise property value and even extend the life of the elderly.According to an article published on the BBC Web site, a 2002 study found that elderly people who lived near green, open spaces tended to live longer than those stuck in a “concrete jungle,” citing the attraction for elderly people to leave their houses and go walking – critical exercise that adds to longevity.IN Costa Rica, green spaces are more often thought of to give longevity to the environment and preserve this country’s treasured biodiversity. To this end, the country has included provisions for green spaces in many of its zoning laws, and has also included incentives for those who preserve or reforest their land, according to Arcelio Hernández, a partner in Bufete Hernández Mussio y Asociados, a law firm specializing in real estate transactions.To encourage conservation, the government offers two incentives, Hernández told The Tico Times. The first is called the pago de servicios ambientales (environmental services payment), a yearly sum paid to landowners who preserve their land. The second is a contract landowners make with the Environmental Ministry, through which they are paid to reforest their land; however, commercial harvests are intended as the end result. Both incentives are paid through the National Forest Financing Fund.Green spaces are also preserved through zoning laws, which can vary from municipality to municipality, Hernández explained.“The first thing to do when thinking of a development is to find out whether a master plan exists for a given municipality,” he said. “If a given area is declared a protected area by an executive decree, no development can take place.”A master plan, or plan regulador, is a plan that regulates all zoning in a municipality, controlling what types of businesses, construction and development may be undertaken in different areas.According to Hernández, when building condominiums, developers must set aside 40% of the project for public areas, including green areas, parks, guardhouses and parking areas, among other possibilities.On land that has been zoned for agricultural use, projects can only be subdivided into lots of a minimum of 5,000 square meters each if outside a metropolitan area, and 7,000 square meters each if inside a metropolitan area, Hernández explained. Within these lots, only 15% of the land can be built on.“That is, 750 square meters may be constructed horizontally within any given subdivided lot,” Hernández said.
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