If your ideal second home looks a lot like the one you have back in the United States, Canada or Europe, then Costa Rica may be the place for you. Cookie-cutter developments, placed neatly on well-planned grids with names like “Mediterranean Escape” and “Costa del Mar,” abound.
But if you want to hobnob with locals trotting alongside oxcarts, breathe in the exhaust from poorly inspected automobiles and strike out from the safety of your subdivision, your options are fewer.
At least, they used to be.
As news of illegal developments, water shortages and pollution oozes from beneath the walls of many gated communities, a new generation of investors is reveling in the backlash.
This new form of development, promoted as “green,” “ecofriendly,” “sustainable” or “community-based,” depending on whom you ask, seeks to minimize its footprint on Costa Rica’s environment and people.
“Our whole vision is to integrate. No gated communities. No walls.We want to be on the same plane as the people living here,” said Al Benner of Finca Las Brisas (www.fincalasbrisas.org), near the Pacific beach community of Sámara, on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Benner said Finca Las Brisas doesn’t try to impose any particular belief or guiding social or political principles on the people who wish to buy lots there. Rather, most will simply share a common interest: “The desire to do things the right way,” he said.
The development will feature hundreds of fruit trees, organic vegetables grown onsite and low-impact houses. He said there will be little, if any, movement of soil, and plans to encourage the forest to take hold again, preserving only vistas and view lines.
It’s 25 minutes to such well-known beaches as Sámara and Carrillo, but a world apart, he said. There are waterfalls, two rivers, swimming holes, freshwater shrimp and an ocean of fish nearby.
“When you’re up here, you’re in a pristine, protected area. It’s not a beach area that’s already been spoiled,” he said.
The idea seems to be catching on. Jeff Feldman, the son of a U.S. land developer, moved south years ago and wanted to do something different.
He said he’d seen the ravages of large-scale, second-home developments, and looked for a new approach.
“We went on a land-scouting tour, with the intention of doing something completely different. As career developers, doing a typical American-style master-plan community, then packing the site with dense homes – that’s not what we wanted,” he said. “We want to create a model, not just for Costa Rica but for the world.”
He calls it the triple bottom-line approach: profit, but not at the expense of people or the planet.
He and partners developed the concept for Kopali Communities (www.kopalicommunities.com), the first site of which is now under construction in San Mateo, just inland from the central Pacific coast.
Besides integrating with the local community through history, culture, food and music events and exchanges, he pointed to the development’s commitment to build “super-ecological and biological” wastewater and storm-water treatment systems, alternative energy sources and sustainably designed tropical “eco-homes.”
He also promises top-quality design and construction materials, with an ecological flair.
“We want to create communities, not a collection of houses,” Feldman said. “We base our communities around fresh-grown, onsite organic food in abundance. Clean, chemicalfree water.Housing.What more do you need?”
That’s the same bet that Finca Las Brisas’ Benner has placed.
“People in the United States are uncertain of the country’s future,” he said.“They like the idea of being off the grid, of having everything you need right there. It’s a sort of a plan B. The concept has a lot of momentum right now.”
Other projects in Costa Rica claim to have taken sustainability to another level. That’s what Finca Bellavista (www.fincabellavista.net), a tree-house community overlooking the Golfo Dulce on the southern Pacific coast, aims to do, according to co-founder Erica Hogan.
The tree houses will be connected by ground trails, a platform network and ziplines, and power will be provided by a hydroelectric turbine system, supplemented by a solar photovoltaic system. Houses will also utilize rainwater catch systems, and wastewater will be disposed of through biodigestors that convert waste to energy.
“The dream of living in the treetops seems to be a universal theme … and now there is an opportunity to live it,” Hogan said.