Judge issues order to move Woman’s Exchange lawsuit forward

City of Sarasota and Laurel Park Neighborhood Association have 30 days from service of Aug. 17 decision to file written responses

Judge Brian Iten. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit website
Judge Brian Iten. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit website

As Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier had anticipated, a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge has issued an Order to Show Cause, requiring a response to the Woman’s Exchange’s call for overturning an April City Commission decision.

In his order, issued on Aug. 17, Judge Brian A. Iten references the Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed by Sarasota Attorney Robert Lincoln on July 29. In that complaint, the Woman’s Exchange seeks a judicial review of the City Commission’s 3-2 vote on April 11 to reverse a decision of city staff — upheld by the city’s Planning Board — to issue a permit to the nonprofit organization so it could build an addition with a loading zone on Rawls Avenue in downtown Sarasota.

The Exchange operates in an historic structure located at 539 S. Orange Ave. in Laurel Park.

In standard language for such orders, Iten wrote, “Upon review of the petition, the Court finds [the Woman’s Exchange] has demonstrated a preliminary basis for relief and therefore finds it appropriate to direct the Respondents to show cause why relief should not be granted ….”

In an Aug. 3 interview with The Sarasota News Leader, Fournier said he anticipated the court would determine the Woman’s Exchange petition to be sufficient and therefore issue such an order.

The judge’s decision necessitates written responses from the city and the other respondent — the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association — within 30 days after they receive service of his order.

The Neighborhood Association’s members fought the Woman’s Exchange’s plans for the Rawls Avenue loading zone, saying the additional traffic on that street would be hazardous to people who walk and ride bicycles there. Because of judicial rules, Lincoln pointed out after filing the complaint, the Association had to be named as a respondent in the case.

A graphic shown to the City Commission in April shows how workers at the Woman's Exchange would be able to keep a lookout for vehicles approaching a new Rawls Avenue loading zone. Image courtesy City of Sarasota
A graphic presented to the City Commission in April shows how Woman’s Exchange staff (represented by the pink arrows) would be able to keep a lookout for vehicles approaching a new Rawls Avenue loading zone. News Leader photo

Representatives of the Woman’s Exchange say the nonprofit needs additional space because of the growth of its consignment business, especially in regard to furniture transactions. The loading zone the nonprofit has been using hampers traffic flow in the parking lot and poses its own safety issues, Lincoln pointed out during the City Commission’s public hearing in April. The petition he filed in July also makes the point that that loading zone does not comply with city Zoning Code specifications.

However, because both Orange Avenue and Oak Street — which also borders the Exchange property — are primary streets, the Zoning Code does not allow a new loading zone to be built on either of them, Lincoln told the City Commission.

Therefore, Rawls Avenue was the only place a loading zone could be created in conjunction with an addition to the structure, he said.

Fournier is working already with city staff on a draft amendment to the code in an effort to encourage the Woman’s Exchange to remain in its downtown location.