Host: Lourdes Ramirez won, Sarasota County lost, and that’s official now. Yesterday, the Sarasota County attorney recommended the commissioners drop any plans to appeal a recent court ruling against the county in a case brought by a Siesta Key activist, after the county allowed construction of high-rise hotels on the island. WSLR reporter Ramon Lopez is trying to understand the implications.
Ramon Lopez: Sarasota County Commission Chairman Ron Cutsinger and the other four board members put to an end a two-year legal battle – in a matter of seconds, without any discussion. At issue? Two proposed hotels on Siesta Key.
While this battle may be over, the war over hotels on the barrier island goes on.
The commissioners voted five to nothing on Tuesday to accept County Attorney Joshua Moye’s recommendation to not appeal a judge’s recent order in a lawsuit brought by Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez.
Moye said an appeal risked paying additional attorney’s fees, should the county lose in a second round. Ramirez had filed a motion in circuit court to recover past attorney’s fees and costs.
Ramirez went to court to fight the county commission’s approval of the two hotels. She successfully argued to 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll that the vote was inconsistent with Sarasota County’s existing comprehensive plan, which prevents increasing the density of development on the barrier islands above what was allowed by regulations adopted back in 1989.
The Sarasota County Commission three years ago removed the density regulation for ‘transient accommodations’ on Siesta Key. It limited the number of hotel rooms to a max of 26 units per acre. This cleared the way for a proposed 170-room hotel in Siesta Key Village and a second 120-unit hotel. The real estate developers have until Nov. 8 to appeal Judge Carroll’s ruling.
One of the proposed Siesta Key hotels
Meanwhile, opponents of large hotels on Siesta Key face further incursions by real estate developers.
Benderson Development, one of the largest commercial developers in the region, has indicated it may seek to build an 85-foot tall hotel in Siesta Village on 1.4 acres it already owns. The hotel would have more than 200 rooms. A separate real estate deal would see a 112-room hotel on Midnight Pass Road.
According to the Sarasota News-Leader, the developers have submitted to the county’s planning department a proposal to change the county’s growth plan. No date has been set for the county commission to consider that comprehensive plan amendment.
Ramirez told WSLR News that she was ‘thrilled’ and ‘feels good’ that the county won’t appeal Judge Carroll’s ruling. She said this means the county admits they violated the law and feared they would lose an appeal. “This was a win for us and confirms we have protections we are willing to use,” she said.
And she says the hotel opponents on Siesta Key are preparing to “start the next battle”.
This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.
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