Attorneys for intervenors cite state law calling for ‘expeditious resolution’ of land development cases
The developer and property owners involved in Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez’s lawsuit against Sarasota County over approval of a 170-room hotel on Calle Miramar are asking the 12th Judicial Circuit Court to move up the trial date in the case.
In their March 22 motion, the attorneys for Calle Miramar LLC — whose principal is New York City resident Louise Khaghan — and SKH 1 LLC — whose principal is RE/MAX Realtor Robert Anderson — note that the complaint was filed in November 2021, but the trial is not scheduled until March 27, 2023.
Yet, the attorneys point out, “The Florida Legislature contemplated the need for expeditious resolution of these land development cases. In addition to requiring a claimant to bring a claim within 30 days of the approval [of the development order], the Legislature mandates that … ‘the court shall advance the cause on the calendar [emphasis in the motion].’”
The County Commission’s approval of the Calle Miramar hotel is considered a development order under state law.
The intervenors’ attorneys cite Section 163.3215(8)(a) of the Florida Statutes.
Further, they write, Ramirez is seeking a judge’s ruling under the provisions of Chapter 86 of the Florida Statutes. Section 86.111 allows the court “to order a speedy hearing of such an action,” they add.
The attorneys for the intervenors are Scott A. McLaren, Shane T. Costello and Jarod A. Brazel of the Tampa firm Hill, Ward & Henderson.
Although Ramirez’s attorneys — Martha Collins and Pamela J. Hatley of the Collins Law Group in Tampa — had argued against allowing the intervenors to become parties to the case, on March 7, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Stephen Walker granted the intervenors’ motion for participation.
No hearing was conducted, Walker noted in his order. However, having reviewed the intervenors’ motion and Ramirez’s attorneys’ response to it, he continued, he decided to grant it. Nonetheless, Walker wrote that the intervention authorized “is preliminarily limited in scope to the extent necessary to protect the intervenors’ interests.” He added, “The Court reserves the ability to modify this limitation on the rights to intervene granted herein as this action progresses.”
In their motion seeking to intervene, the attorneys for Calle Miramar LLC and SKH 1 LLC noted that the focus of Ramirez’s lawsuit is the prevention of the construction of the eight-story, 170-room hotel on Calle Miramar that the County Commission approved on a 3-2 vote on Oct. 27, 2021. (Ramirez contends that the board action was inconsistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the county.)
If she won the case, the attorneys wrote, then the resort hotel would “not be permitted to be developed” in accord with the resolution the County Commission approved.
Thus, the attorneys stressed, Calle Miramar LLC and SKH 1 LLC “are the real parties that stand to gain or lose by the outcome of this lawsuit.”
In opposing the intervenors’ participation, Ramirez’s attorneys cited provisions of state law applicable to the case: “If the Florida Legislature had intended property owners, lessees, or development order applicants to be necessary and indispensable parties to challenges under section 163.3215 [of the Florida Statutes], the legislature would have said as much in the statute. The Legislature took care,” they continued, “to specify that the cause of action and relief is against the local government …”
Discovery phase underway
In the meantime, the “discovery” phase of the trial is underway, with all of the parties having filed requests for specific materials they believe to be relevant to the complaint.
Ramirez’s attorneys filed her first request for “production” from the county on March 4. Among the items they are seeking is a copy of a proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment, 2020-H, which an attorney with the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota initially filed with the county with the hotel application. That amendment would have changed the Comprehensive Plan to prevent the counting of hotel rooms as residential dwelling units countywide.
Instead, working with county Planning Services Division staff, the attorneys for the developer and the property owner ended up seeking an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), to effect the same change.
The UDC contains all of the county’s land development and zoning regulations.
Before the county commissioners approved that UDC amendment, any “transient accommodations” — the term county staff uses to refer to hotel and motel rooms — were limited to a maximum of 26 per acre on property zoned Commercial General. The four parcels between Calle Miramar and Beach Road, where the hotel would stand, is approximately 0.96 acres, and it is zoned Commercial General.
On March 16, the county filed its first request for production of relevant materials from Ramirez. Among the items the county seeks are “[a]ny documents which discuss or mention traffic on Siesta Key from the past two years; and “[a]ny documents which discuss or mention congestion on Siesta Key from the past two years.”
In her lawsuit, Ramirez contends that the construction of the hotel will exacerbate island traffic with which she has to contend on a daily basis, as she lives not far from the site of the planned project.
The Office of the County attorney also asked for a copy of the articles of incorporation for a company Ramirez founded, Siesta Key Community Inc., as well as any “bylaws, charter, or other enabling or regulating documents of Siesta Key Community, Inc.”
The Florida Division of Corporations shows that Siesta Key Community’s Articles of Incorporation were filed with the state on July 30, 2010. Ramirez is identified as president, with an address in Venice.
However, by the time of the filing of the 2013 annual report for the company — on Jan. 24 of that year — Siesta Key Community’s place of business was listed on Beach Road on Siesta Key. Then, with the Feb. 3, 2016 filing of the annual report, the place of business changed again to Ramirez’s home, which is on the northern part of Siesta Key.
Likewise, the attorneys for the intervenors are seeking specific materials, as noted in their March 22 filing for “production.”
Their list includes the following:
- “Any and all documents showing you reside in Siesta Key, Florida, and the period during or times of the year you reside there.
- “All documents tending to show that as part of your daily routine you walk or drive past the [site planned for the hotel].”
The intervenors’ attorneys also have asked for “[a]ny and all documents tending to show your activities in furtherance of the mission and goals of Siesta Key Community, Inc.”
Donations welcomed in support of the lawsuit
In a March 24 post on her Siesta Key Community Facebook page, Ramirez wrote about the fact that the discovery phase had begun. “There is a lot of legal work to do,” she pointed out, and she encouraged people to contribute to the legal defense fund for the lawsuit.
As she has explained, if she loses the case, she could end up being faced with a high expense in the form of attorneys’ fees that the judge could award to the county, plus, potentially, the intervenors.
In fact, on March 30, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce filed a motion that seeks to amend the county’s December 2021 answer to Ramirez’s complaint. In that motion, he writes that he mistakenly failed to include in the answer “a statutory claim for attorneys’ fees.”
Pearce noted that Section 163.3215(8)(c) of the Florida Statutes allows for the award of attorneys’ fees “to the prevailing party” in a challenge filed as allowed by that section, which deals with Comprehensive Plan consistency issues.
Her lawsuit, Ramirez has stressed, is not just for her but also for all of the other residents of the county who oppose the two hotels the County Commission approved for Siesta Key. The second one was authorized as a seven-story, 120-room project to be built by Dr. Gary Kompothecras on Old Stickney Point Road. Its companion structure, which also won the commission’s endorsement, is a five-story parking garage planned on property between Stickney Point Road and Old Stickney Point Road.