By Phil Colpas
The plaintiff in a lawsuit to fight construction of a proposed eight-story, 170-room hotel to be built between Beach Road and Calle Miramar in Siesta Village has set up a legal fund and is asking fellow concerned citizens to contribute.
Back on Aug. 19, longtime resident and former Siesta Key Association president Lourdes Ramirez urged the Sarasota County planning commissioners to deny the hotel proposal as “inconsistent with the comp plan,” which has limited density on the island to 26 units per acre since 1989. The planning commission instead recommended that the county commission approve the project, which it did at its Oct. 27 meeting.
After that decision, Ramirez was first to file suit in November, contending the county did not have the authority to grant exceptions that violated the County Comprehensive Plan, which capped the number of rooms at 26 per acre of property on the barrier islands; and that this added density will also cause traffic and safety problems.
According to Ramirez’ lawsuit, the proposed UDC amendment No. 32 that will eliminate density limits for hotels on the barrier islands is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Zoning amendments that are inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan are illegal under state statutes.
Long a community activist, Ramirez is concerned about the Siesta Key residents who have joined her to fight this encroaching development. “They’re not giving up, but they feel beaten,” she said. “When I post something about community issues, I’m getting a lot of responses. But I don’t feel the energy. We’re doing this because we have hope. But we are discouraged.”
Their reaction is understandable, especially considering that the county commission has recently greenlighted two large-scale hotel projects and a four-unit beach condo to be built on Siesta Key.
What’s more, there are still two other proposed hotels that haven’t yet been approved. “The fact that those two other hotels are still possible means we really have to make sure we win these lawsuits,” Ramirez said. “We need to make sure we get this done.”
Ramirez explained that it will not be a trial jury, despite briefly being listed as such on the county clerk’s website. The tentative schedule for the case has been released; it is as follows: Pre-trial conference Feb. 21, 2023; Docket sounding March 21, 2023; and the trial begins March 27, 2023, for a three-week trial term.
“Several people approached me thinking it was March of this year,” Ramirez said. “Unfortunately, the process takes longer than that. The date may change, they give a three-week window around the date. As they get closer, they’ll know better.”
“We are moving forward,” Ramirez said. “There’s a lot that might happen in the next 14 months, but at least we have a court date. We will keep you informed on the progress of challenging the county for approving the mega hotel on Siesta Key.”
Ramirez is accepting donations to help support the lawsuit.
“We’re looking at a year’s worth of legal fees,” she said. “Anything can happen, so we need to secure experts. This is impacting all of Siesta Key, a lot of people. This is a communitywide effort that will help the entire community. It would be nice for the community to continue to help.”
To donate, visit Ramirez’ website at siestakeycommunity.com.
Siesta Sand reached out to the county attorney’s office for comment. Drew Winchester, county media relations officer, said that the county doesn’t speak on active lawsuits with which it is involved.
James Wallace, another concerned longtime resident, filed suit in late November. His case targets both the 170-room Siesta Village hotel and Dr. Gary Kompothecras’ 120-room hotel and parking garage project at Old Stickney Point and Peacock roads.
In his complaint, Wallace alleges that the Sarasota Board of County Commissioners acted illegally and in violation of its own procedures by adopting the Land Development Code changes without first amending their Comprehensive Plan policy which limits hotel room density to a 26 units per acre maximum on Siesta Key.
His trial is tentatively slated to begin in May of 2023.