“Please excuse me. I’m a little tense,” said Victor Hugo Ramírez. He’d just finished describing his battle with municipal authorities in the Central Pacific town of Manuel Antonio, who seek to demolish his family’s restaurant, and the signs of stress he’d shown throughout the conversation – rifling fitfully through sheaves of papers and photographs, emphasizing his key points again and again – prompted his apology. “But what would you prefer: that Mar y Sombra stay or that they throw it out?”
Ramírez, 64 – whose father founded the restaurant in 1969 and who has been involved in the enterprise most of his adult life – visited The Tico Times Feb. 2 to describe the events that led up to a demolition attempt by local authorities Jan. 23 (TT, Jan. 27). He admits part of the restaurant lies within the protected no-build beachfront zone defined in the 1977 Maritime Zone Law, but says the law does not apply to Mar y Sombra because it was built well before the law was passed, is still under original ownership and has not been expanded.
The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) has granted the restaurant at least a temporary stay.
According to a statement from the court released the same day as Ramírez’s visit, the Municipality of Aguirre, which oversees Manuel Antonio, must suspend its demolition efforts until the issue is resolved in an administrative contention court. If the restaurant goes, Ramírez says, the area will lose an increasingly rare asset: a Costa Rican-owned beachfront business.
Under the Maritime Zone Law, the first 200 meters of land from the high-tide mark belongs to the state. No building or development can take place on the first 50 meters, where part of Mar y Sombra is located, while the remaining 150 meters can be developed privately through concessions granted by municipalities, which receive lease payments on the property.
According to the restaurant co-owner and his cousin Flora Ramírez, the restaurant’s legal representative, the municipality may be unfairly targeting Mar y Sombra because it lies on such valuable property, just meters away from the entrance to tourist favorite ManuelAntonioNational Park.
“It’s totally arbitrary,” Flora said of the municipality’s actions, adding that other area businesses built structures in the Maritime Zone after the law was passed, and have seen no action taken against them.
Last month, Marcela Artavia of the Municipality of Aguirre told The Tico Times she would not comment on the case except to say that “there is a judicial resolution from a judge to demolish it (Mar y Sombra)” (TT, Jan. 27). Municipal officials did not return phone calls from The Tico Times this week.
Following the demolition attempt Jan. 23, which was thwarted when tourists and residents who support Mar y Sombra flocked to the restaurant to hold up flags and banners and even chain themselves to the restaurant’s concrete outdoor seating, the municipality backed down, at least temporarily.
According to Flora, the controversy stems from the fact that two judicial orders exist: one in favor of demolition, from the Criminal Court of Quepos (just north of Manuel Antonio), and another against the demolition, from the Administrative Court of the Second Judicial Circuit of San José.
The Ramírez family provided The Tico Times with copies of two letters from Rodolfo Arias, a judge from the San José court, dated Jan. 30 and stating that on Oct. 22, 2005, the court found in favor of the suspension motion filed by Federico Ramírez, Victor Hugo’s brother.
One of the letters, both of which state that the municipality must suspend the demolition until the San José court finishes analyzing the case, is addressed to Alex Contreras,Mayor of Aguirre, and the Aguirre Municipal Council; the other is addressed to the Criminal Court of Quepos.
The Tico Times was unable to obtain a copy of the Criminal Court’s decision by press time.
Though only part of the restaurant stands within the protected zone, Flora Ramírez said that because of the age of the building, the rest of it might collapse if part of it is destroyed.
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 Maritime Zone Law.