One moves ahead to Jan. 6, other sees new life
By John Morton
One of the two lawsuits fighting the new county-approved Siesta Key hotels will likely have a ruling Jan. 6.
The other received a ruling that pleases the plaintiffs.
Both allege that Sarasota County violated its own comprehensive plan when its commissioners approved two hotels late in 2021. A third hotel was approved in October of 2022.
All three hotels exceed the limits on height and the number of rooms per acre that had previously existed since 1989.
For starters, Sarasota County requested in late November a summary judgment in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court and Ramirez did the same on Dec. 1. With no more evidence to gather for both parties, it means the case will bypass a jury trial that was scheduled for March and instead receive a ruling from Judge Stephen Walker.
Ramirez is fighting the eight-story, 170-room hotel on .96 acres between Calle Miramar and Beach Road near the Village. Three of her six claims will be ruled upon, the main one involving what Ramirez says is the violation of the county’s Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1.
Meanwhile, the second lawsuit filed against the county is still scheduled for a June trial. The plaintiffs are Robert Sax and Marina Del Sol condo owners near the seven story, 120-room hotel approved on Old Stickney Road, along with the owners of the 222 Beach Road condo complex near the Calle Miramar project.
Walker recently eliminated three of the lawsuit’s five counts, but on Nov. 28 reinstated Count 1 in which the plaintiff’s claim the county, by amending its United Development Code, violated its own comprehensive plan by not following the procedural requirements outlined in the county’s charter.
The other counts are in many ways contingent upon that first count staying alive, Catherine Luckner of the Siesta Key Association explained, and keeps in play what she referred to as the lawsuit’s “kill shot.”
If victorious with regard to that claim, it could possibly result in the plaintiffs recouping their legal bills, Luckner added.
Walker on Nov. 28 also denied for a second time the county’s motion to dismiss the case.
While both lawsuits are trying to stop the building of the new hotels, they were filed separately and will be heard separately despite it involving the same judge. However, Ramirez said a victory for her on Jan. 6 could impact the second lawsuit.
“If we win the case, the other attorney will likely file a motion for summary judgment in his case based on the judge’s ruling,” she said. “So, a win in our case should lead to a win in their case.”
Meanwhile, Sax is relieved with Walker’s reversal. “The plaintiffs in the case are very pleased with Judge Walker’s decision reinstating our complaint that the county acted beyond its legal power or authority (ultra vires) in creating the ordinance upon which approval of the hotels depended, while also clarifying our ability to challenge as ultra vires the hotel special exception approvals,” he wrote to the Siesta Sand. “We continue to strongly believe we have the law on our side in this case.”