County on hook for about $270,000 in legal fees

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By John Morton

The legal-fees reimbursement coming to Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez is $170,000. For the party consisting of 222 Beach Road, Marina Del Sol, and Robert Sax, it’s $101,278.20.
Those are the numbers reached by attorneys in a recent settlement involving the prevailing plaintiffs in two separate lawsuits against Sarasota County. Both parties in 2021 successfully alleged that the county had violated its own comprehensive plan when, through its own misinterpretation, approved the construction of hotels that exceed the rules related to height and the number of rooms.

Ramirez

On March 19, Sarasota County commissioners signed off on the reimbursement, as brought forth by County Attorney Josh Moye, without any discussion. The commissioners last year voted 4-1 to fight the ruling through the appeal process, with Siesta Key District 2 commissioner Mark Smith dissenting, but later changed its mind per Moye’s advice that it would likely lose.
It marks the end of one chapter of an effort by developers to build high-density hotels on Siesta Key, but that endeavor remains alive now that a recent request has been made for county leaders to actually change the rules in order to allow for it.
In the meantime, a ruling last August by Hunter Carroll, a Sarasota County 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge, still rules the Siesta Key landscape. He sided with Ramirez and upheld the rules put in place in March 1989 — that hotels can’t be taller than 35 feet and have more than 26 rooms per acre.
The second lawsuit by 222 Beach Road, Marina Del Sol, and Sax fell under the same ruling.
Florida statutes allow for the reimbursement of legal fees in cases that involve a “consistency challenge” and Carroll granted such in December.
Subsequent of that, attorneys for both the prevailing plaintiffs and the county had to take on the complicated task of examining the legal bills. In the Ramirez case, sifting out those bills that may had been in duplication to her victory in a separate hotel-related state case in April was a focal point.
In that state matter, she is not entitled to any reimbursement. It was handed down by an administrative law judge and now a state panel, led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, may consider sanctions against Sarasota County that could include the loss of assorted state funding and other measures.
Ramirez, who said she spent more than a combined $300,000 on both cases, had asked for about $200,000 from the county before the settlement was reached.
Regarding the second lawsuit, $2,268 was pulled out of the requested $103,546.20 because it was spent by the county in relation Siesta Key resident Jim Wallace who eventually dropped out as a plaintiff.
Developers associated with the case, known in legal terms as “intervenors,” early on in a ruling were allowed to have legal representation in the cases. Carroll, however, decided they would not be held accountable for any type of reimbursement to the prevailing plaintiffs.

An artist’s rendering of a hotel initially approved by Sarasota County commissioners that was to be constructed on Calle Miramar near the Village. (submitted image)
John Morton
Author: John Morton

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