Nosara, Nicoya

Owner of a rancho-style structure built in the maritime land zone of Garza Beach demolishes it after years of conflict

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Two years after the Municipality of Nicoya issued multiple closure orders for the illegal construction of a rancho-style pavilion in Garza Beach’s maritime land zone, the American owner, David Lesman, took the initiative to start permanently demolishing the infrastructure on his own. He personally confirmed this to The Voice of Guanacaste.

The only thing that will remain on his property is the wall along Route 160, he said, since it isn’t part of the disputed structure built in 2018.

Via Facebook messages, Lesman assured The Voice that after years of trying to legalize the situation with his property, he decided to tear it down “for his own well-being,” stating that the lack of answers from authorities was affecting his mental health.

The Maritime Land Zone (ZMT-Zona Marítimo Terrestre) Department didn’t send any type of eviction or demolition order, confirmed the person in charge of this municipal department, Rodrigo Acuña.

Acuña said that the demolition is underway because Lesman “finally submitted to the guidelines of the law.” He also emphasized that the American never had any type of building permits or concessions for the land.

Acuña affirmed that the municipality had the intention of communicating with the American in the past few months to assess the rancho’s situation. This wasn’t possible since Lesman doesn’t currently live in the country. Acuña related that at the beginning of this month, the person involved communicated that he would obey the law and that he would tear down the infrastructure himself.

This [demolition] occurred in the context of the ZMT demolitions. In the end, the gentleman’s representatives acknowledged fault and they decided to tear down the illegal infrastructure on their own,” said Acuña.

With the demolition, Lesman indicated that he wants to stop spending so much money on his failed attempts to legalize the project.

Since the first time that The Voice of Guanacaste contacted the American in 2019, he has claimed to have documents, receipts and bank transfer statements that prove that he made payments valued at $1 million to legalize the rancho with the municipality, but as of the publication of this article, he hadn’t sent copies of the documents.

During a session of the municipal council on November 4, 2019, the former mayor of Nicoya, Marco Jimenez, said that he was unaware of any type of payments or permits granted to this person.

Despite the rancho’s destruction, the Santa Cruz Environmental Prosecutor’s Office continues investigating Lesman for the crime of usurping property in the public domain. The case is currently in the phase of evidence collection, according to the Judiciary press department.

Years of Conflict 

The Maritime Land Zone Law (No. 6043) establishes that no one can build in the 50 public meters of the coast. However, in 2018, Lesman built a large part of the structure on a plot of his property located right in the public area.

In February of 2019, The Voice of Guanacaste revealed documents that showed that the construction was illegal. Since then, this news outlet has kept a copy of municipal files that state that part of the rancho and the fence were built precisely in the public area. The investigation also showed that work was continuing despite three closure orders from the Municipality of Nicoya’s construction control department.

Although there are several parcels in Garza that have buildings that don’t comply with the allowed limit, many of them have existed since before the law was published, more than 40 years ago. According to Lesman, he bought the property in the late 1980s.

The Municipality of Nicoya still doesn’t have a regulatory plan for Garza, so any construction in that public area is illegal. Without that plan, the local government can’t grant concessions. They can only issue land use permits, which doesn’t make it possible for the owner to build something new either. In fact, none of the rancho’s neighbors have concessions or permits to make major additions to their houses.

The municipality didn’t resolve the issue during the two years that the rancho remained standing. Despite the fact that the construction department constantly shut down the work, the Maritime Land Zone department was the only department with the power to order the structure’s destruction.

Article 13 of the ZMT law indicates that municipal authorities should evict and demolish buildings as soon as they notify the owners of structures constructed illegally in the 50 meters of public area or works that don’t have the necessary permits.

In April of 2019, the Municipality of Nicoya’s construction control department recommended that the mayor’s office should shut down the construction and demolish it, but the building was still standing two years later.

Acuña affirmed that the rancho couldn’t be demolished by the municipality since they were unable to notify Lesman directly, as required by the Penal Code, while he was out of the country. The municipal legal department also gave this justification in July of 2019.

In November of 2019, former mayor Marco Jimenez told the municipal council that he had assigned two municipal officials to investigate irregularities in the case and present a report.

Council Suggested that the Municipality Manage the Rancho

During the municipal council session on February 9, 2021, the Maritime Land Zone commission proposed asking the Comptroller of the Republic if it would be possible to not demolish the rancho and instead use it for cooperatives and development associations (ADIs) to come to the beach and sell their products.

The commission’s suggestion was for the rancho to be managed by the municipality and used by local merchants to increase business in the area.

This rancho is under a demolition order. It’s a beautiful rancho that could be used by fishermen in the area… Since it’s already built, if we can use it and give it to a cooperative or the ADI, then in good time, and, well, if it can’t be, then let the demolition proceed,” Martin Reyes, president of the council and a member of the ZMT commission, stated during the session.

Council member Raymer Loaiciga, also part of the ZMT commission, said that the consultation was still pending as of the start of the rancho’s demolition on February 23, and that taking the corresponding actions in this case depended on receiving the comptroller’s answer.