By Phil Colpas
Longtime Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez filed a petition in February with the Florida Department of Economic Development alleging that the Sarasota County Commission greenlighted construction of hotels in violation of the density limits in its own Comprehensive Plan.
Some notable civic organizations — including the Siesta Key Coalition, which was founded specifically to fight big development on the island, and the Siesta Key Association — also oppose construction of these hotels because the infrastructure is simply not there to support the increased density on the already overcrowded barrier island, they maintain.
Ramirez previously filed a lawsuit against the county in November to fight construction of a proposed eight-story, 170-room hotel to be built between Beach Road and Calle Miramar in Siesta Village. She has set up a legal fund and is asking fellow concerned citizens to contribute.
“At this point, I’m using two avenues to address the fact that Sarasota County violated our local growth laws (Comprehensive Plan),” Ramirez said. “One is the court case and the other is a formal complaint to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.”
The DEO is a state agency that oversees the Community Planning Act that requires counties and municipalities to have a comprehensive plan for growth, and to ensure that counties comply with that plan when approving ordinances.
Siesta Key resident James Wallace also filed suit in late 2021. His case targets both the 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 its 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.
Here is an update on Ramirez’s court case and petition:
In the court case, Ramirez said that she and her attorneys agreed to allow the developer of the proposed hotel on Calle Miramar to be “intervenors” in the lawsuit but do not have full status as defendants. “We agreed to let them become intervenors since the judge ruled the developers can intervene in the other hotel lawsuit (Wallace’s), and we figured he would do the same with my lawsuit,” she said.
Next, Ramirez and her team requested documents from the county, such as the 1989 zoning regulations and all documents related to the Calle Miramar hotel public hearing. “This is part of the discovery phase,” she said. “We are waiting for the county to comply with our first request for documents.”
The state petition complaint case is a more informal process.
“We filed a complaint with the county and after we got their response, we filed a complaint with the state,” Ramirez said. “Since it is informal, there are no public hearings. We are waiting for the state to provide us with a response.”
Ramirez’s lawsuit challenges the county commission’s decision to approve an application for a mega-hotel development because it alters the density or intensity of use on a particular piece of property in a manner that is not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
“It is my hope that both of these legal actions will send a message to our county that they must abide by the laws of our Comprehensive Plan,” she said. “I appreciate the support of those who donate to the legal defense of Siesta Key. Every little bit helps our cause.”
You can donate to Ramirez’ legal defense fund through her organization’s website: siestakeycommunity.com.