Developers at beach resort face closure threat from Mexican government

A planning issue which has resulted in uniformed soldiers showing up at exclusive eco-boutique hotels and closing them is the start of a major push against development on some of Mexico's beaches, it is feared.

According to Federal government officials the hotels in Tulum have been built on a National Park where no development is allowed despite property owners having 'clean' titles issued by the State Government.

Just 80 miles from the tourist resort of Cancun, the hotels are popular with those visiting nearby Mayan archaeological sites and ruins. They have managed to obtain a court injunction allowing them to stay open while the dispute is resolved.

The Tulum beaches are some of the most beautiful and underdeveloped in the area. But hotel owner John Kendall, an American who owns Mezzanine, one of the hotels targeted for closing, said he and other owners are stunned.

Before he bought his property in 2003 it was a backpacker establishment that had been in business for more than 10 years. Once he took over, he transformed it into a high-end eco-lodge that caters to a well heeled clientele.

He has been told by officials an Environmental Impact Study needed to be done before Mezzanine was remodeled, but according to Kendall, the law requiring it for work on existing properties didn't come into effect until 2005, two years after he took over the hotel. In addition, he said he was given a permit to renovate the place by the local government.

Mexico's Federal Environmental Prosecutor, Patricio Patron, wants the buildings not just closed down, but ultimately removed from land the Federal government says is protected. The hotels are not only too near to the historical ruins, but they are also on land reserved for protected species, he said.

However the State government stands by the titles it had issued to the owners of the properties. The problem centres on the fact that the National Park was decreed in 1981 but the legal process was never completed properly by the Federal government. The State government then titled and sold parts of the Tulum beach to different investors.

'The bigger issue, which has not yet surfaced, is a fight between the Federal and the State governments on whether the State illegally titled land that was protected in a National Park,' Kendall said.

It is not just individuals that are affected. Kor Group, a Los Angeles-based real estate investment and management company, has apparently paid some $50 million for the beach next to Mezzanine and has not, so far, been able to develop it. 'If a giant, sophisticated investor can be fooled, what hope is there for the little guys like me?' Kendall added.