Municipalities in the Greater Metropolitan Area, GAM, and government authorities at the National Institute of Housing and Urban Development, INVU, are debating the scope of a new land use plan, known as POTGAM, proposed by INVU to regulate urban growth within the GAM. The biggest issue being debated, is whether the new plan is compulsory for all government institutions as well as the municipalities. While the state agencies consider that the new POTGAM guidelines are obligatory for all federal and municipal institutions, the municipal government’s interpretation of the new plan is that its scope should be limited to suggestive guidelines.
On May 17, 2012, representatives from the nine municipalities in Costa Rica’s largest county of San Jose, which are included in the Metropolitan Federation of Municipalities of San Jose, FEMETROM, met to define their official position concerning the new POTGAM plan. The executive director of FEMETROM, Juan Antonio Vargas, said that the INVU plans should be observed only by the municipalities that haven’t created their own regulatory plans. Vargas continued to say that:
“When they created the original Land Management Plan for the GAM, in 1982, there were no municipalities with their own master plans, but now; the majority of municipalities have their own regulatory plans, which are not under the jurisdiction of INVU.”
The chief executive of INVU, Eugenia Vargas, said that:
“POTGAM is a regional plan that respects municipal autonomy in making local decisions, but the plan and its guidelines need to be incorporated into the regulatory plans already established by the individual municipalities.”
However, according to the former attorney for the board of INVU, Ricardo Castro, the new POTGAM plan cannot be binding for all municipalities, because that would violate the terms of municipal autonomy established in the Constitution of Costa Rica.
Meanwhile, the Costa Rican Ministry of Housing and Human Settlements, MIVAH, is arguing with the College of Geologists of Costa Rica, CGCR, over the new limits of the urban containment ring detailed in the new POTGAM plan. Dr. Allan Astorga, who is a well known geologist and professor of the School of Geology at the University of Costa Rica, coordinated the original study of the Urban and Regional Planning of the Greater Metropolitan Area, PRUGAM, which was abandoned by INVU. Dr. Astorga says that the increase in the size of the new Greater Metropolitan Area Plan, POTGAM, includes around 15,000 hectares of which 62% consists of high or very high environmentally fragile areas. The Chief Executive and Director of Planning for INVU, Eugenia Vargas, admitted that there is an increase in the size of the limits of the GAM area, but denied there will be any damage to vulnerable areas.
However, according to dozens of scholars and experts in engineering and geology, including, Enid Gamboa Robles, President of College of Geologists of Costa Rica, as well as geologists, Dr. Sergio Mora Castro, Dr. Allan Lopez Saborío and Dr. Allan Astorga, the new map, published by MIVAH, expands the size of the original GAM map and threatens vital aquifers that supply the GAM with potable water. The new map increases the areas for urban development in mountainous areas which are vulnerable to various natural hazards, such as landslides, avalanches, floods, geological faults and volcanic activities. Furthermore, the plan threatens existing ecosystems and forest areas of the mountain regions of the GAM, which due to existing land development, have already been affected to the point of extinction.
These professionals are questioning the decisions of INVU and MIVAH because the new POTGAM was created irresponsibly by the government institutions without transparency and it puts the citizens who live and work within the Greater Metropolitan Area, GAM, at risk. The assertions of the professionals are that INVU, in its new plan, POTGAM, does not resolve the existing potential environmental disasters in the GAM and that INVU is more interested in real estate development and the sale of housing than the new plans negative impact on the environment and natural resources. A look at the new website of INVU, confirms the professional assertions. Additionally, the new plan calls for 250 kilometers of roads, which will create substantially more land development, but at a high price for the citizenry. The professionals are recommending that INVU needs to consider “vertical” urban development rather than urban sprawl created by additional land development and new roads.
Furthermore, the professional scholars and experts point out that the new POTGAM plan contrasts with the existing plans of the Ministry of Transportation, MOPT, which is promoting more sustainable planning for mass transit and public transportation, utilizing renewable energy rather than building new roads filled with more petroleum consuming vehicles.
Costa Rican residents living in the central valley have been waiting for a new sustainable land use plan since 1982. Hopefully with the combined energy of the professional scholars, municipal councils and the Costa Rican government officials, a new plan will be agreed to before it’s too late and more natural disasters take the lives of the residents of Costa Rica.