It seems like the perfect spot to do business, right at the corner of the main entrance to Playa Guiones, down the road from Hotel Café de Paris past the office of the Tourist Police. Tourists and locals alike are constantly passing by there on their way to surf, swim or see the sunset. Just a few years ago, this lot was empty. There was talk of opening an office there for the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) to watch after the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, but due to issues with funding and disagreements over who the lot belonged to, the project never came to fruition.
Now the lot is a beehive of activity, with sales of crafts, food products, shuttle and tour services, ATV and surf board rentals, surf lessons and more. With water, electricity and telephone services installed and the businesses displaying permits, it would appear that all is in order. However, a legal case is in process regarding use of the land, as MINAE affirms that much of this land is public domain located within the refuge and therefore ordered that activities there be suspended.
The first business to open up a shop on the lot in 2011 was Cacho’s Surf, followed by food vendors, artisans and an organic market. In 2013, in time for the beginning of the tourist season, more businesses began operating on the land.
With a 3-year rental agreement, Puro Tico Tours built a small office and an enclosure for the ATVs that they rent, and Nosara Transportes, previously located in the commercial center next to Café de Paris Bakery, relocated there, offering tours and shuttle services, using a recreational vehicle as their office.
Jose Mendoza, one of the associates, said this location is a more economical option for them compared to the rent of their previous office. “This point here is the most perfect one there is. It has more accessibility to the tourism client,” he remarked.
According to the National Registry, the lot in question was registered on December 3, 2003 with an area of 3,239.79 square meters. The title holders appear as Inversiones Nicoya Sociedad Anonima and Casa de Olas Limitada.
Regarding the lot, Norma Rodriguez Garro, manager of protected areas for the regional office of SINAC, the Tempisque Area of Conservation (ACT), stated that more than 50% of this property is located within the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. As such, it should not have been registered as private property.
“Effectively a complaint has been filed due to the constructions made and notes have been sent to stop the works, which apparently have been ignored,” Rodriguez said.
The complaint was filed by the Ostional office of MINAE against Juan Manuel Alvarado Viquez, locally known as Chapa, on May 24, 2011 after the rancho-style structure was built on one of the corners of the property. An addendum was added on August 3, 2011 for installing an electrical meter, and another addendum was added on January 17, 2012 regarding the construction of a concrete floor and two rows of cement block.
According to the map attached to the complaint, the limit of the refuge runs diagonally through this land, including the entrance to the road that runs behind the lot, the corner where Cacho’s is located and most of the property extending back toward the road, except for a triangular section of land next to Plaza Guiones.
Two years later, on April 15, 2013, the district attorney’s office (fiscalia) of Nicoya requested that MINAE conduct another inspection “to determine if the property is usurped and the construction remains.” MINAE followed up with a report on July 5, 2013, stating that the rancho remains intact and that stairs had been built to access the second floor of the rancho.
Currently, according to the press department of the district attorney’s office, the case has been submitted to the Court of Justice of Nicoya with an accusation for infraction of the Wildlife Conservation Law from the district attorney’s office and they are waiting for the court to set a date for the trial.
Carlos Hernández Rosales, who oversees the MINAE office in Ostional, indicated that they are seeking legal clarification regarding the land use since they “observe anomalies as to the location plan of these properties and probably their registration.”
He added that vendors of crafts and other trinkets do not have permission to operate within the refuge.
In addition, Cristian Soto, head of the municipal permits office (patentes), indicated that the municipality stopped granting any permits for ambulatory sales in the canton last year. Therefore none of the artisans selling wares on the street should have current permits.
Regarding the other businesses, the municipality cannot confirm if they have permits because, according to Soto, problems with their vehicle and a restructuring of inspectors has prevented them from being able to go inspect the businesses. He explained that since permits can be registered under different names than the business name, a physical visit to the site is the only way to fully determine if the business permits are in order.
The Voice contacted Juan Manuel Alvarado Viquez regarding his ownership of and use of the land. Alvarado indicated that he is not the only owner of the property. He mentioned three owners and said the registration has been firmly established. However, he did not want to comment regarding the matter.
Likewise his brother, Jorge Manuel Alvarado Moreira, when contacted by telephone, did not want to comment. He did, however, mention that the land neither belongs to him nor to his brother but to a society of eight people and pointed out that there are construction permits.
Alvarado Moreira has been implicated in other cases of real estate fraud. On March 11, 2010, he was sentenced to three years of prison by the penal court of the first judicial circuit of San Jose for use of false documents and fraud related to the sale of a property in Playas de Nosara owned by Harry Kai Kaukonen. However, the sentence has not yet been carried out.