Costa Rica Land Use, Contrasts in the city – Some activities change a neighborhoods dynamics

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According to the latest reform to the Urban Plan for the Central Sector of San Jose, published Aug. 3, land use has changed in three neighborhoods, primarily because they went from being residential to “mixed,” areas where new businesses have changed residential dynamics.

These are the Boulevard in Rohrmoser, the Boulevard Americas (in north Sabana) and the El Carmen sector of Barrio Escalante.

These three areas are a small example of how former residential areas change after being bombarded with commercial locales and office buildings.

New order. Why has this change taken place? According to Chief of Building Permits in San Jose Marko Solorzano, before zoning laws were created businesses could open anywhere and often chose residential areas because property was cheaper there.

Zoning regulations indicate how the municipality wants an area organized. The idea is to plan and regulate commercial, urban, industrial and agricultural growth with clear rules. “We want to direct community growth so that development happens in an orderly way and thus avoid both overuse and no use at all,” said Solorzano.

If there is 20 percent or more of commerce in a neighborhood, it is considered a “mixed use” area.

Pro development. For those who see the increase in mixed zones as a positive sign, the country has become a platform for services that has awakened the interest of multinational franchises, which have moved into urban zones to attract a larger group of residents. A new road or the enlargement of an existing one also spurs the increase in new businesses.

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Although most think that a property increases in value in a commercial zone, one assessor says that is not always the case and that various factors affect a change in price.

It is not the same to have a house in the middle of stores located on a busy road than to have a house in a residential zone where little by little services are introduced.

In the first case, the property could increase in value because supply is lower than demand in a zone planned and designed for commerce.

Its not the same for a property in a residential zone that has been transformed over the years into a mixed zone. Many owners must reduce the price of these properties taking into account the investment necessary to transform the structure for a commercial activity (parking areas and interior and exterior remodeling).

But not only prices of a square meter are affected by an areas change. These zones suffer, among other things, a reduction in the quality of life for its residents and increased security worries.

Implications. When an area becomes a mixed zone, it is common to see more public transportation, loading and unloading of merchandise, and environmental and noise pollution.

The lack of public parking obliges people to park their cars on streets and sidewalks, causing traffic chaos.

Security worries, especially at night, are another factor that affects residents in these areas in transition, since stores and office operate during the day. To deal with this, neighborhoods have hired private guards who become the only ones to protect the inhabitants.

Different land use

Residential zones. Here only complementary businesses and services are allowed  that is, activities that respond to the daily needs of neighborhood residents.

Commercial and Service Zones. For activities with regional or national reach. These are found along vital primary and secondary thoroughfares.

Mixed Zones. Areas in transformation usually between centers or commercial corridors and residential areas.

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Our thanks to our friends at La Nacion – Costa Rica’s largest Spanish circulation newspaper for their permission to use their article in English.

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