It is unclear if Sabadell plans to sell its stake or develop the project: The offices of Banco Sabadell and the Hansa Urbana division in Mexico both said they could not comment on the dispute.
On its web site, the developer rejects comparisons to Cancun, which had about 28,000 hotel rooms in 2010, saying the project would be smaller and more environmentally friendly than the sprawling Caribbean resort that has seen environmental problems such as beach erosion and the pollution of a nearby lagoon.
The developer's site promises "to preserve a percentage of the land in its natural state," it also promises multiple golf courses, whose grassy slopes would require huge amounts of water and fertilizer in a cactus-studded plain.
They plan to get much of the water from wells on what they describe as underused former farm allotments, and from a desalinization plant.
Mexican law allows developments in and around many protected areas if studies find they will not have serious environmental impacts, but the permits are being challenged in Mexican courts by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, which argues that studies for the new project are incomplete.
Critics say authorities granted the permits in this case either because they wanted the outside investment, or were afraid of the consequences if they didn't: under trade pacts like those signed by Mexico, investors can sue governments who unfairly affect their interests.
The department's Aguilar said that if the government fails to properly give a company an opportunity for a permit, then "I as a government agency get myself into a problem, because I am violating the rights of an applicant."
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