County passes on hotel-related court appeals

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By John Morton

No appeals in court will be coming from Sarasota County as far as high-density hotels are concerned.
On Oct. 24, the five county commissioners voted unanimously to heed the advice of Josh Moye, the county attorney, and not fight their Aug. 21 loss in the case filed by Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez. It was that day that 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll ruled in a summary judgment that Sarasota County in October 2021 violated its own comprehensive plan when allowing unlimited density, giving the green light to approving three large hotels to be constructed.


Carroll decided that the guidelines put in place in March 1989 were what counted, limiting hotels to 26 units per acre and 35 feet in height (he’d recalculate the density to 36 rooms per acre in his ruling). The three hotels subsequently approved by the county all greatly exceeded those parameters.
Commissioners also agreed to drop their appeal of a state Division of Administrative Hearings ruling in April that also supported Ramirez. Four of the five commissioners originally voted in favor of that appeal, with Siesta Key’s Mark Smith dissenting.
At that time, Commissioner Mike Moran said the county should “do whatever it takes” to reverse the rulings against the county.
Said Smith afterward in an email to Siesta Sand, “I am, and always have been, against unlimited density for hotels on Siesta Key. I believe boutique hotels, in scale with Siesta Key, would serve the community well in supporting local retail, restaurant, and tourist-related activities.
“Boutique hotels on commercially zoned property would also lessen the desirability of renting in our single-family neighborhoods.”
He also feels transportation studies should help determine any hotel-related decisions.
“The development of a Siesta Key traffic model that would be required to be used for county approval of redevelopment on Siesta Key is critical to ensuring that the intensity of development on Siesta Key doesn’t increase,” Smith said. “This effort is one of my major focuses as county commissioner.”


While Ramirez is not entitled to attorneys fees in the state ruling, she is entitled to them at the county level and on Oct. 12 she filed the paperwork.
“Let’s hope the circuit court agrees with our motion so that some of the legal costs are covered,” she recently wrote to supporters via an electronic newsletter.
In Moye’s Aug. 29 letter to commissioners, he warned them that ongoing legal battles would be costly above and beyond what is already significant money owed to Ramirez.“The attorneys’ fee award may be several hundred thousand dollars,” he wrote.
Previously, he had warned commissioners in a letter that fighting the Carroll ruling “would be an uphill battle.”
The current commissioners that voted in favor of unlimited density are Moran and Ron Cutsinger. Neil Rainford, who was on the county’s planning commission at the time, also favored it.
Smith and Commissioner Joe Neunder had yet to be elected, joining the board in late 2022.


John Morton
Author: John Morton

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