Residence number 4100 will be demolished to make way for a 12-story building.

Facing the sea, painted white with red details, stands the last “little house on Avenida Atlântica”. Unlike the skyscrapers and high-walled luxury homes of Balneario Camboriú, its low white doors are hollowed out, allowing onlookers a closer look.

Over the years, the property has even acquired the status of a tourist attraction.

However, there is little time left for the last wooden house on the city’s noblest avenue: residence number 4100 will be demolished to make way for a 12-story building.

The little white house, with its red frames and windows, is 139 m² in size and occupies most of the 286 m² plot.

An example of Popular Architecture, a style widespread in Santa Catarina between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, this type of construction presents simple solutions with limited materials, according to architect and professor at the University of Vale do Itajaí (Univali) Alessandra Devitte.

A historical and cultural loss

Wooden architecture has generally followed the socioeconomic and cultural evolution of the southern region, she says. This architecture incorporated aesthetic influences from various cultures, especially German, Italian and Polish immigration, which brought new construction techniques and styles.

Wood figured prominently, especially among German immigrants (of forestry origin), due to the abundance of this material in the region at the time.

The demolition of the house, in Devitte’s opinion, represents not only a material loss, but a historical and cultural one.

“The preservation of folk architecture plays a crucial role in maintaining the cultural and historical identity of a community. It reflects the traditions, traditional trades, values and ways of life of the people,” says the architect.

The cottage demolition application and project protocol were submitted in December 2022 for review by the Planning Department. In January 2023, the demolition license was granted.

The property, in Barra Sul in Balneario Camboriú, was built even before the so-called “Brazilian Dubai” (in reference to the abundance of tall buildings) became a city. The house was built in 1956 and bought in 1973 by Lio Cesar de Macedo, who passed away in 2016.

Over the years, the modest house has seen its surroundings taken over by buildings and is now “squeezed” between them.

Although the cottage is seen by many as a symbol of resistance in the region, Macedo’s heirs – who used the property as a vacation home until last year – may have negotiated the beachfront residence for a price in line with a title currently held by the city: the most expensive square meter in Brazil, according to the Fipe-Zap index.

A local broker consulted by BBC News Brazil estimated that the property could be worth between US$3 million and US$3.6 million (R$15 million and R$18 million), considering real estate prices in the area.

In 2019, one of the sons, João Ferreira de Macedo Neto, told a local newspaper that he had no interest in selling the property. The family was contacted, but did not respond to BBC News Brasil’s request for an interview.

Brazil’s most expensive square meter

In 1956, when the beach cottage was built, there wasn’t even a building in Balneario Camboriú, which was then called Camboriú Beach. It was not until six years later that the Punta del Este building appeared on Central Beach.

The property has seen the urban landscape transform, especially in the last two decades.

For real estate agent Diego Wantowsky, it was only a matter of time before the house was demolished.

In his opinion, the only reason it hasn’t been sold sooner is because the investment to build a beachfront development is high.

“There is still no forecast of when the building will be constructed. It has only been shared that it has been sold, the owners are very reserved with this information,” he says.

The price negotiated for the house does not surprise those who know the region, as it is a tourist destination for celebrities such as footballer Neymar. After all, Balneario Camboriú is now the Brazilian city with the most expensive square meters in the country.

While the prices per square meter of real estate in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro stand at US$ 2.24 and 2.01, respectively, Balneario leads the ranking with an average price of US$ 2.50. The data comes from the FipeZap Index, published in a bulletin of the Economic Research Institute Foundation (Fipe) earlier this year.

The high demand for properties in the city is due to its security and privileged location. In addition to the beaches, Balneário is easily accessible by road and airport.

The expansion of Central Beach was also a crucial factor in the increase in value, says Wantowsky. “The beach expansion was as important as the upcoming revitalization of the promenade. It will increase the value of apartments in the area by 20% to 30% more, at least.”

The real estate boom is being repeated in other coastal towns in Santa Catarina, such as Piçarras, Praia Brava and Itapema – the latter is the second with the second most expensive square meter in the country: US$ 2.19.

In addition to targeting the high-income Brazilian public, developers are also focusing on attracting foreigners. At the end of July, FG Empreendimentos launched an advertisement starring Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo.

The ad was for the One Tower development, the tallest residential building in Latin America, with 84 floors. With 20 leisure areas, each floor sold for about R$15 million.

“People even say that Balneario is already a bit ‘dollarized’. I myself sold an apartment recently to a woman from Belgium,” assures Wantowsky.

Many things wrong

With the exponential growth of the city, issues such as beach shading, lack of water and sewage infrastructure and traffic have been worrying the population and experts in the field.

After the widening, the ten points of Central beach were not suitable for bathing, according to an analysis conducted by the Institute of Environment (IMA) at the end of 2022.

In addition, the central beaches and squares are left without sun in the mid-afternoon due to the height of the buildings.

Daniela Occhialini, president of the Community Association of Residents of Praia Brava (AC BRAVA) and one of the organizers of the Salve Brava movement, fights so that Brava beach does not follow the same path as the “Brazilian Dubai”, although the place is already very different from the original.

“We started to look around us and we see that there are many things wrong. There is a gigantic alignment between public management and the private sector, which in this case is the construction industry,” he says.

In a statement, the Balneario Camboriú City Hall affirms that the municipality does not believe that verticalization is a problem and that, in relation to the shading of the city, the works to widen the sand strip (from 25 m to 75 m) provided more sunlight during the day for bathers.

Regarding criticism about the primacy of money and alignment with construction companies, he responded that onerous concessions from construction companies allow for important projects and works for the city.

He added that a large part of the municipality’s income comes from taxes such as IPTU and ITBI, which are generated by the real estate business. And she emphasized that all the necessary processes for the construction of buildings are followed in a transparent and rigorous manner.

The organizer of Salve Brava says that other municipalities in the region – such as Barra Vieja, Penha and São Francisco do Sul – have already requested help to prevent disorderly growth from reaching their beaches.

Lilian Simões, a 78-year-old retiree, has lived in Penha (37 km from Balneario Camboriú) since 1996 and has a special relationship with the sea: as a child she contracted whooping cough and the doctor recommended that the family spend some time on the coast. Since then, she has been attached to the beach.

The Penha resident agrees that the city needs to be structured to accommodate the real estate sector. However, she says she wouldn’t mind selling her house and moving to an apartment for more comfort.

“I am thinking of moving to Itajaí, because there is more structure there, such as hospitals, markets and services in general.”

Learning for the coast

It is no longer possible to reverse Balneario’s urbanization model, says Rosemeri Carvalho Marenzi, a forestry engineer and professor in the Graduate Program in Environmental Sciences and Technology at the University of the Itajaí Valley (Univali).

“It is a lesson that other cities can learn. In the sense that they can have a different model, especially in terms of scale and distribution of buildings.”

In the case of Balneario Camboriú, says Marenzi, urban concentration occurred because the territory is small, but this does not mean that people need more housing, since most of these buildings are vacation, investment or rental.

For her, the so-called “ghost apartments” (those that are only occupied a small part of the year or not at all) cause the exclusion of local residents.

“It is the residents who often end up having to sell their properties due to real estate speculation. If they don’t sell their property, they will end up in the middle of a cluster of buildings, isolated and without sunshine.”

In the expert’s opinion, urban planning should not only focus on the economy, but also on tourism, the environment and the interests of residents.

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