The land management through zoning plans is still a major flop of the country’s cantons, according to the XXI report of the State of the Nation.
The lack of rules governing land occupation and its side effects, ranging from the residential and industrial sprawl to the traffic jam caused by a poorly planned road network and a steady increase in the vehicle fleet, complicate the outlook for local government and even the citizens themselves.
According to the National Statistics and Census Institute (INEC in Spanish) 2,268,248 people lived in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GMA) in 2011, in other words a concentration higher than in the rest of the country’s areas, and between 1984 and 2000, the number of occupied dwellings in the region doubled.
Same happened with the number of constructed area, which between 1982 and 2013 not only doubled its value but also involved a process of rapid urbanization in adjacent cantons such as San Ramón, Naranjo, Palmares, Atenas, Barva, Paraíso, Santa Barbara, among others; that were not part of urban space but that should connect to the GMA through new road networks and ended integrated to the metropolitan area.
The study stresses that these peripheral cantons were not prepared to take that population nor to regulate these new developments.
Ineffectiveness of the Cantonal Zoning Plans (PRC in Spanish)
One of the instruments proposed as a central issue to overcome the problem of poorly planned growth is the Cantonal Zoning Plans contemplated in the Urban Planning Law of 1968, but after nearly five decades of its creation the municipalities still impose them obstacles for their implementation.
The State of the Nation showed that environmental feasibility studies, hydrogeological maps and other requirements within the plans have a higher cost than the average of what a municipality receives. In addition, the lack of trained technical staff to develop the PRC is a common problem for local governments.
On the other hand, the report studied the 36 municipalities of the Central Valley and found that 20 of them have current zoning plans but only 8 of those are complete. Within the 8 municipalities that do have these studies and the PRC completed are San José, Goicoechea, Moravia, Curridabat, Oreamuno, San Isidro, Valverde Vega and Escazú.
Gaps in land costs and taxes.
Another consequence of uncontrolled expansion and overall depletion of developable areas is the emergence of gaps in the cost of urban and rural land as well as in raising property taxes.
In the first case, the XXI State of the Nation, states that Desamparados, Guadalupe and San Francisco de Goicoechea, Curridabat and San Rafael de Escazú, are the districts with the most expensive land, as the value per square meter is between the 300 and 500 dollars. Meanwhile, the land in more rural districts like Salitrillos, Rancho Redondo, San Jerónimo and Cascajal has an average value of less than 15 dollars per square meter.
In regards to the property-tax collection between 2006 and 2010 the cantons of San Jose, Escazú, Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago and Santa Ana accounted for 55.7% of average income for this concept, while the 44% of tax collection was distributed among the other 25 cantons of the GMA. Similarly, between 2011 and 2014, San José was the canton that had more revenue of real state tax with a total of 4.3 billion colones, while 20 municipalities in the GMA raised less than 1 billion in that period as well. Oreamuno had the lowest income, 181 million colones.
Uncontrolled growth and traffic jams
According to the INEC, between 2000 and 2011, San José suffered a housing loss of 5% while the peripheral cantons increased their population by more than 15%. This indicates that there are a growing number of people that do not live in the GMA but need to commute to work every day and end up collapsing the entryways.
In addition to this, the huge increase of the vehicle fleet of the country, which grew by 673.1% between 1980 and 2014, while private cars increased by 914.4%.
The State of Nation indicates that this is one of the most sensitive consequences of the lack of land-use and has high costs for the country, for example, a survey of the Comptroller General’s Office found that in the GMA, 25% of the population takes more than two hours a day to reach their destination.
«The traffic jam in the GMA generates costs. It is estimated that the loss of time was equivalent to 1.9% of GDP in 2005 and 2.0% in 2009 (around US $ 590 millions). The additional fuel consumption due to this, in the reference period is estimated at about 6.5%” describes the report.