Expat may have won long fight with city hall figure

A.M. Costa Rica photo Richard Sims peers from the window where he hopes to sell food products.

You can’t be a chicken if you want to sell chickens in Barrio Otoya.

Ask Richard Sims, a long-time expat who is developing the southeast corner of Avenida 11 at Calle 15.  He has been besieged by municipal inspectors in what he considers a vendetta orchestrated by someone high up in the municipal government.

He finally appears to have approval of his project after he printed up flyers about what he considers abuse of power and spent six days preaching to the members of the municipality’s administrative staff at their office. He never met Mayor Johnny Araya but he has been told that Araya read his literature.

The issue has more significance than just a property dispute. Araya is leaving the mayor’s job June 30 because he is the presidential candidate of the Partido Liberación Nacional. In fact, he is the front runner. Sims said he filed a formal municipal complaint against Jorge Villalobos, a close associate of Araya, alleging that Villalobos was the man who used his municipal position to keep ordering municipal inspectors to cause problems at the worksite. Sims joked that he has more visits from inspectors than even Intel Corp.

Unlike many expats who try to develop projects here, Sims is not a neophyte. He’s been here since the mid-1990s, has a U.S. law degree and an M.B.A. and has even taken some law courses here. He is fluent in Spanish.

The property is not particularly grand. It’s 240 square meters (nearly 2,600 square feet). It borders the noisy Heredia rail line and has no on-site parking. Sims originally wanted to construct apartments on the site, which had been occupied by a small food store, a pulpería. Sims thinks that he irked some would-be purchasers when he bought the property out from under them for about $25,000.

He managed to improve the property by putting a teak covering on the sun-bleached facade. To tear the structure down would expose the property to more restrictive setback requirements.

A neighboring businessman said that he thought Sims might have brought some of his trouble on himself, but was not specific.

The plan to build apartments failed for lack of ready cash, Sims said, and his trouble started when he sought to build a small guard shack to safeguard the property. He tried for over a year. Meanwhile, building inspectors would arrive “faster than a 911 call” every time he tried to do any work. He even was fined for not having rain gutters, although the fine was cancelled when he installed them.

Eventually Sims decided that the area needed a mini-supermarket, and he began gathering permissions from various government agencies. He said sometimes various pieces of paper vanished after being handed in to municipal officials. But finally last December he submitted all the required documents and began preparing the site.

Sims admits that he did some work at night and on weekends to avoid municipal sanctions while he was waiting for final approval of his plans. He even had a confrontation with Sandra García, the vice mayor who spotted him working as she drove by the building. Later he showed up at her office to display all the permits, he said. Since then she has been a supporter of the project, he said.  Ms. García will become mayor June 30 when Araya resigns.

From the first of the year until Easter week, Sims said he had many visits from inspectors. He said he hid to avoid being served with notices to stop work. Finally he got the idea for the flyer and began distributing them to neighbors in the area. Sims lives about three blocks away.

Then he decided to show up at the municipal offices repeatedly to lecture employees there on his travails. The flyer became part of the municipal complaint he files, Sims said.

Sims said that in other jobs he held he brought $10 million into the country in exchange for exported lumber products. But he allows that he is not rich and that the efforts with the municipality and nit-picking inspectors were costly.

His project is not done by any means. But he does have a large window that faces Avenida 11 where he plans to begin selling some food products toward the end of the week. Inside is a brick oven with racks to cook chickens. Eventually he wants to sell the chickens out of the food store window while he develops plans for a coffee and sandwich shop in another part of the building. He already has installed the plumbing, including facilities for the handicap.

Some of his customers most likely will be municipal inspectors with whom he has developed personal relationships in recent years.

This entry was posted in Costa Rica News. Bookmark the permalink.