On most of our first meetings with new, clients they are surprised when we tell them that there are minimum setback distances for wells and creeks on properties in Costa Rica. Often at that moment, the property has been already purchased.
In extreme cases, this can result in reducing your available area for placing your building by 95% or more. In this article, we will discuss the setback distances of wells and creeks on properties in Costa Rica, so that you can make an informed decision when purchasing real estate.
- What are setback lines and what’s their purpose?
- Setback distances from property lines
- Setback distances from wells & creeks
- How do you find out about setback lines on your property?
- What are the consequences for the property value?
- How do you measure setback lines for wells and creeks?
- Final setbacks from waterbodies
- Possible solutions in case there is not enough space to build.
1. What are setbacks and what’s their purpose?
Setbacks are minimum distance requirements between a structure and features on a property such as wells, creeks, or the property boundary. The purpose of setbacks is to protect the environment and public safety. Setbacks can vary depending on the municipality, zoning regulations, and the type of feature being protected.
In Costa Rica, there are eight entities that can dictate setbacks on your property:
- Municipality: Permitted typology of land usage i.e commercial, residential, agricultural, mixed-used. Construction setbacks with respect to the land and its borders.
- MOPT: Alignment by nearby roads, railway lines, or others.
- INVU: Alignments by national construction regulations in addition to guidelines regarding natural watercourses, maritime zone, broken, springs or streams.
- Ministry of Health: Disposal of water waste and affectations by secondary/inner roads, or passage of pipes and watercourse.
- CNE (National Emergency Commission): Areas with natural risk, risk of flooding for example.
- AYA & Asadas (Aqueducts and Sewers): Organizations that manage water, availability of drinking water and sewage, sanitary infrastructure, and passage of pipes on roads.
- ICE: Alignment with respect to power lines, especially high load-lines.
- Ministry of Health and AYA: Internal streets that allow the passage of watercourses or pipes.
2. Setback distances from property lines
In general, the distance of setback lines from property boundaries varies depending on the location of road, and access.
The front side of your building facing the road usually is required to respect a minimum of 2m in distance between the property line and built structure. This measurement can be more if MOPT or the Municipality has plans to expand the road.
Only a property fence (Tapia) can be built directly on the property line.
The sides and the back of the building usually should respect a minimum of 1,5m. This can increase depending on if you are planning to have windows on that side of that building if you are planning to build a property fence, and finally the height of your building all this points can change that mesurement.
If your building is going to be completely closed on the wall facing the property boundary, without any openings, usually you don’t have to consider any setback distances.
If you are planning to build are property fence (Tapia) then your setback on the first level reduces from 3m to 1,5m on the first level.
If you are planning to build 2 or more levels, setbacks increase 1,5m for the second level and 1m for any additional level.
There are more factors to it that would exceed this article, so make sure to consult your architect on this topic.
3. Setback distances from wells & creeks
Setback requirements for wells and creeks are set by national law in Costa Rica and are a little simpler to understand. The law states that the minimum setback distance for a well must be 10 meters in urban areas 15 meters (about 65 feet) in rural areas and up tp 50 meters (about 164 feet) from a creek when the land is not flat and present a steep inclination. The law also requires a minimum setback distance of 100 meters (about 328 feet) radius to a wells or Spring in your property or from a neighboring property.
4. How to find out about your setback lines on your property?
The first step is to obtain a copy of the registered survey of the property from the National Registry. The survey will show the location of any existing buildings, roads, creeks, and wells on the property as well as the property boundaries. It is important to note that older surveys can be outdated and may not reflect changes that have been made to since the survey was done.
Once you have the survey, you will need to determine the setback requirements that apply to your property. Depending of the property location you are assign a municipality, you will need to check the zoning regulations to see what the setback requirements are applying to your case.
We recommend talking to your surveyor or architect to help you determine the setback requirements that apply. At this stage a typographer is key as he can also check on site if the plan you are being sold is accurate on reality. Basically a typographer can map the boundaries on site.
5. What are the consequences for property value?
The value of a property can be affected by the setback requirements as your buildable area can be significantly reduced by it. For example, in case you have a larger project in mind or a project like multiple houses spread over the property, it might finally not be possible to be carried out. This will limit the development possibilities on your property and affect its value.
6. How do you measure setback lines for wells and creeks?
Setback lines are measured from the edge of the well or creek, not from the center. This is important to keep in mind when you are looking at a property, as the buildable area may be much smaller than you think.
It is also important to note that the setback requirements for wells and creeks are cumulative. This means that if there is a well on your property, the minimum distance from the property boundary will be 10 meters + the width of the well. For example, if the well is three meters wide, the minimum distance from the property boundary will be 13 meters.
The same is true for creeks. If there is a creek on your property, the minimum distance from the property boundary will be 50 meters + the width of the creek. For example, if the creek is three meters wide, the minimum distance from the property boundary will be 53 meters.
7. Final setbacks from waterbodies
Even if you professional architect and typographer map the set back to waterbodies you still need to present this information to INVU and get the final setback distances. The process is called fluvial alignment and it takes up tp 30 days to get their official answer.
8. Possible solutions if there is not enough space to build
If you find that you don’t have enough space on your property due to the setback requirements, there are actually not so many solutions but here are four:
- Apply for a variance from the municipality or from the national government. This is usually only granted in special circumstances, such as if the property is too small to build a house on. We are working on a case where we are changing the typology permit to use the land for from agriculture to residential and commercial. It is a lengthy process and also not always possible.
- Even small areas can be designed creatively to make the most of the space. If you are working with a professional, they will be able to help you come up with a design that works for your property.
- Buy an adjacent property and combine the two properties into one. This is usually only possible if the adjoining property is for sale and if you can afford it.
- Find a piece of land that doesn’t have any wells or creeks on it.
We hope this article has been helpful in understanding the setback requirements for wells and creeks on properties in Costa Rica. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us any time!