Judge in Calle Miramar hotel lawsuit allows county attorney to amend answer to Ramirez complaint, to request attorneys’ fees if county prevails

Case still set for trial in late May 2023

The Judge Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center is located on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota. It is the facility where 12th Circuit Court cases are conducted in the county. File photo

On March 30, an assistant Sarasota County attorney filed a motion with the 12thJudicial Circuit Court in Sarasota, seeking approval to amend the answer he filed in the lawsuit brought by a Siesta resident, challenging the County Commission’s approval of an 8-story, 170-room hotel on Calle Miramar.

In his Dec. 21, 2021 answer, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce explained in the motion, he “mistakenly left out a statutory claim for attorneys’ fees,” which are awarded to the prevailing party in the type of litigation that Lourdes Ramirez of Siesta Key is pursuing.

Pearce cited Section 163.3215(8)(c) of the Florida Statutes.

This is Section 163.3215(8)(c) of the Florida Statues. Image courtesy State of Florida

Following an approximately 15-minute hearing on May 3, Magistrate Deborah Bailey recommended that Pearce be allowed to file the amended answer.

However, Bailey’s order noted that the Court would have to adopt that recommendation for it to be considered final.

On May 20, Circuit Judge Stephen Walker approved her recommendation. He offered no elaboration.

Notices about his decision were to be sent not only to Pearce, the order said, but also to Ramirez’s lead attorney, Martha Collins of the Collins Law Group in Tampa, and attorney Shane Costello of the Hill Ward Henderson law firm in Tampa, who is the lead attorney representing the owner of the four parcels where the hotel would be constructed, along with the developer, RE/MAX Realtor Robert T. Anderson Jr. Judge Walker previously allowed Anderson and the ownership group, whose principal is a New York City resident, to enter the case as “intervenors,” since the litigation affects their interests.

Lourdes Ramirez. Photo courtesy of Ramirez

In filing her complaint against the county in late November 2021, Ramirez contended that the County Commission violated numerous policies in its Comprehensive Plan — which guides growth in the county — in approving the hotel. The structure, which would stand on the edge of Siesta Village, would be adjacent to a four-story condominium complex, with other residential structures in the same area.

In his March 30 motion, seeking approval for his amended answer, Assistant County Attorney Pearce pointed out that, at that time, the case was “in its early stages of discovery.” The latter term refers to requests for materials from the parties that pertain to the complaint. Information from such documents typically is used during trials as the basis for asserting specific points.

Pearce added that allowing the county to amend its answer would place Ramirez “on notice of the County’s intent to seek attorneys’ fees” if it prevails in the litigation.

Ramirez’s attorneys objected to Pearce’s motion. They had requested that their rationale “be provided to the Court,” he pointed out. Their primary objection, he noted, was that the case management process upon which the parties had agreed set Feb. 28 as the deadline “to file a motion to amend pleadings …” Further, their statement said that, in its Case Management Order, the court “explicitly imposed all deadlines identified in the Case Management Report.”

Pearce attached his proposed amended answer to that March 30 motion. In it, he reiterated the county’s position that the County Commission’s 3-2 vote of approval of the Calle Miramar hotel plans was “not inconsistent” with county policies and regulations, as Ramirez contends.

Further, he wrote, “The County is obligated to pay its attorneys within the Office of the County Attorney.”

The case is set for trial the week of March 27, 2023. Although the intervenors tried to convince Walker to move up the date, he sided with Ramirez’s attorneys in keeping it on that schedule.

The four-story Beach Villas at the Oasis condominium complex (left) is immediately east of the hotel site on Calle Miramar. The Terrace East complex, visible at right, is west of the Ocean Boulevard intersection with Calle Miramar. Image from Google Maps

Ramirez has been working through GoFundMe to try to raise money for her legal expenses, especially in the event that she might have to pay attorneys’ fees if the court ultimately rules against her. Details about how to donate to that fund are on her Siesta Key Community Facebook page.

On that page, she wrote, “Help us stop the County from turning Siesta Key into Miami!”

This is an image that Mark Spiegel, president of the Siesta Key Coalition, showed the County Commission on Oct. 27, 2021. It depicts the mass of the proposed hotel amid the surrounding residential structures on Calle Miramar. Image courtesy Siesta Key Coalition
This is a rendering of the 170-room hotel planned on Calle Miramar, on the edge of Siesta Village. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Ramirez added, “Sarasota County Commissioners voted to turn our laid-back island into an overly commercialized mega-hotel zone. We are challenging their decision in court. Our county’s growth laws prohibit the addition of mega-sized hotels on our island yet the Commissioners ignored the law in order to please a few outside developers.

“Siesta Key is a low lying barrier island off the coast of Sarasota, FL,” she continued. “The addition of hundreds of hotel rooms in high rise buildings will negatively impact our beautiful island. We don’t need more cars on our two lane road!”