The central Pacific beach destination of Manuel Antonio hosted the latest in a series of beachfront demolition attempts this week when authorities visited the well-known Mar y Sombra restaurant, claiming it violates Costa Rica’s Maritime Zone Law, which makes construction within 50 meters of the high-tide line illegal.
According to Alonso Chávez of Mar y Sombra, police and municipal authorities arrived at the restaurant on Monday, bulldozers and other equipment in tow. They began “pulling away tables” and preparing to tear down the structure, Chávez said, but residents and tourists who were on the scene stood in front of Mar y Sombra – some chained themselves to post and tables – and prevented the demolition from continuing. He added that although the would-be demolition team left following the standoff, “anything could happen at any time.”
Municipalities across the country have been demolishing, or attempting to demolish, structures in the Maritime Zone for years, with intensity increasing after the Comptroller General’s Office ordered in 2003 that municipalities must enforce the 1977 Maritime Zone Law. Under the law, the first 200 meters of land from the high-tide law belongs to the state; no building or development can take place on the first 50 meters, while the remaining 150 meters can be developed privately through concessions granted by municipalities.
Chávez – who said he received no notification of the upcoming demolition except an anonymous phone call received at midnight on Sunday, warning to expect police – said the restaurant, built well before the law was approved, is exempt.
“They are applying this law to a 40-year-old business,” he told The Tico Times on Tuesday. “No law is retroactive. They allege that this building was built after the law (took effect), which isn’t true.”
However, the Comptroller’s Office told The Tico Times in an e-mail in September that even buildings constructed before 1977 are subject to the law, with two exceptions: Costa Ricans who are from the area and have lived in the Maritime Zone for more than 10 years, and non-locals who have lived there since before the law took effect.
Manuel Antonio Ramírez of the restaurant Balú, whose brother, Guillermo Ramírez, owns the restaurant located next to Mar y Sombra in the Maritime Zone, said the police who visited Mar y Sombra on Monday did not make any attempt to demolish Balú.
Marcela Artavia of the Municipality of Aguirre, which oversees Manuel Antonio, would not comment on the case except to say, “There is a judicial resolution from a judge to demolish it (Mar y Sombra).” Asked about the Maritime Zone Law’s provisions for buildings constructed before 1977, Artavia, speaking by phone, said she would not comment further about the law unless interviewed in person.
Demolitions took place last year in various municipalities, including Santa Cruz and Nicoya, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, and Golfito, in the Southern Zone – resulting in waves of appeals by homeowners and others (TT, Sept. 23, 2005). In June 2000, municipal authorities demolished the Marina Hotel, Bar and Restaurant in Quepos, near Manuel Antonio.
The owner of the hotel, José Antonio Zúñiga, had been convicted in 1999 of violating the Maritime Zone Law and sentenced to two years in prison (TT, June 30, 2000).