Master Plan of San Vicente, Palawan

People are drawn to a place because of its natural qualities. Visitors flock to the Cordillera to see the hanging coffins in Sagada and the rice terraces in Banaue. Divers visit Tubbataha, Malapascua and Coron for the rich marine life, the thresher sharks and the shipwrecks. Four thousand visitors arrive in Boracay daily to experience the white beach. However, the irony is that the main attraction that draws people to a destination can be compromised with poor foresight, planning and management. It is for this reason that places with high potential for tourism should be masterplanned.

There are two approaches in tourism planning and development. The first is “build and they will come,” such that investments like roads, an airport and seaport, water, drainage and sewerage system, and power facilities are implemented early on as catalysts for development. The second option is to have a wait-and-see attitude with the “build as they come” approach. The leaders of the Municipal Government of San Vicente, Department of Tourism and the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) chose the first option.


The Town of San Vicente

San Vicente's 14-kilometer beach is the first coast in the Philippines to have a 50-meter setback from the high tide - the first 30 meters is a no-build zone and additional 20 meters of non-habitable, non-permanent structures All perspectives by Palafox Associates
San Vicente, in the northwestern side of the main island of Palawan, has attracted visitors and investors with its pristine beaches, marine life, rice fields and 82,000 hectares of forests. Port Barton is famous among foreign backpackers and divers that would stop over in trips from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. The beautiful islands of Boayan, Turtle and German are visited for snorkeling and swimming. In recent years, there has been much interest in the 14-kilometer long beach, said to be the longest stretch of white sand in the country.

San Vicente has more than 165,000 hectares with landscapes that include rice fields, waterfalls, unique coastlines, mangroves, mountains and forests. The town is fairly new, having been founded only in 1972, with majority of its people as migrants from Cebu and indigenous peoples such as the Agutaynon, Tagbanua and Cuyonon. The population is only 31,000, and half of them are involved in agriculture. While the town is rich with natural resources, the poverty incidence is quite high. This is why the welfare of its people are high up in the goals of the Integrated Tourism Masterplan. Before a town can be a world-class destination, it should first be a livable community.

Aerial view of the long beach. Photo courtesy of the Municipal Government of San Vicente
Palafox Associates was awarded by TIEZA to create the masterplan for the flagship Tourism Enterprise Zone (TEZ) after going through a competitive bidding. The 883-hectare area is bounded by the 14-kilometer beach and an average of 500 meters inland. The TEZ will be managed by an association that will ensure that all developments follow the masterplan. The permit process will be streamlined, and tax incentives will be granted for tourism-related activities.


Features of the Master Plan

In creating the Integrated Tourism Master Plan, stakeholders such as residents, farmers and fishermen, investors, developers, local and national government, were consulted. We were required to coordinate and get approval from the Secretaries of the Climate Change Commission, Tourism, DENR, and the DPWH. Studies were done to determine vulnerabilities to climate change and reduce potential risks in environmental stability. We formed a multi-disciplinary team that included specialists in environmental planning, architecture, design, engineering, socioeconomics, institutional management, marketing and finance. We were required to base our plan on both conservative and aggressive visitor and population projections until 2044, even if the published national projections for visitor arrivals are only until 2016. The carrying capacity of the beach in a day is 362,500 people.

People can access the beach from inland, at least every 400 meters
Most waterfronts in the Philippines have a building height limit as high as the coconut tree. While the intention for such restrictions may be good, this has resulted in the hogging of sea views, access and breeze by waterfront properties.

In San Vicente, buildings are allowed to be taller the farther they are from the beach. Fences parallel to the sea will not be allowed, and a maximum building footprint of 50 percent is proposed.

One of the first projects to be funded by TIEZA is access to the beach approximately every 400 meters, which is the average walking threshold for most Filipinos. They will have a minimum width of three meters to be able to accommodate emergency vehicles. From any point within the TEZ, there will be a community center within 800 meters. It will have public open space and facilities such as toilets, security outpost, clinic, banks, and tourist information center.

An ascending building height limit will be implemented to preserve beach views and to share the sea breeze even with inland properties.
International beach destinations such as Copacabana in Brazil, Miami in Florida, and Nha Trang in Vietnam follow a 50-meter setback from the average high tide. In the Philippines, however, the required easement is only 25 meters. This is not sufficient considering risks such as rising sea levels and storm surges. The final approval was for a 30+20 meter setback. The no-build zone is within the first 30 meters from the average high tide mark, and there is a list of allowable uses within the next 20 meters. Within this buffer zone, there will be no permanent, habitable, and with-foundation structures. DPWH insisted that there be guidelines regarding the preservation of the existing tree line along the beach. The natural vegetation should not be compromised by buildings, even if they are in the list of allowable uses.

 In areas that are found to have risks of flooding, adaptive architecture will be applied. There will be no bedrooms on the ground floor, and structures will be designed on stilts. These were based on studies of flood simulations for up to 100 years.

It truly was challenging, but very rewarding, to help create the master plan for the long beach in San Vicente. The many stakeholders had different, sometimes conflicting concerns. The masterplan aims to strike the balance between providing for the common good and respecting property rights, and encouraging investments while preserving areas of natural beauty.


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