Judge schedules Feb. 15 hearing on the motion
As the Siesta Key resident who filed the first lawsuit over the Sarasota County Commission’s 2021 approval of a high-rise hotel on the edge of Siesta Village awaits a ruling in that case, Intervenors in her litigation and a companion case — involving that hotel and a second one — are asking the court to consolidate the lawsuits for trial purposes.
The attorneys for the owners of four parcels between Beach Road and Calle Miramar, where the first hotel would stand, plus the developer of that hotel, are the same as the attorneys for the owners and developer of the second hotel, on the southern part of the Key. The attorneys are with the Tampa firm Hill Ward & Henderson.
Members of the family of Siesta Key chiropractor and businessman Dr. Gary Kompothecras own the property at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road where the second hotel would be built; Kompothecras is the developer.
The primary owner of the Calle Miramar hotel site is a New York City resident; the developer is a RE/MAX Realtor, Robert T. Anderson Jr.
The lead attorney for the Intervenors, Scott A. McLaren, filed the Motion for Consolidation for Purposes of Trial on Jan. 30 in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.
The presiding judge is the same in both lawsuits: Stephen Walker.
In response to the Jan. 30 motion, Walker has scheduled an hour-long hearing at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 15. That hearing will be conducted via Zoom, his order says. The meeting ID is 465 693 0098; the password is 568290.
On Jan. 6, Walker conducted a hearing on summary judgment motions that plaintiff Lourdes Ramirez of Siesta Key, Assistant County Attorney David Pearce and the Intervenors had filed in Ramirez’s case. All of them made points that day about why Walker should rule in their favor, making a trial unnecessary. Following nearly four hours of arguments, Walker said he would need some time to make his decision.
The trial in Ramirez’s civil suit is scheduled to begin the week of March 27. Following an April 25, 2022 hearing, Walker denied the Intervenors’ request to move up the date.
Additionally, Walker already has ruled twice against the county and the Intervenors in the case involving the Kompothecras hotel project. In his second opinion related to that complaint, Walker agreed to restore a count in the lawsuit that contends the county commissioners should have amended the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth, to eliminate the counting of hotel rooms for residential density purposes. Instead, the plaintiffs point out, the commissioners amended the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the county’s zoning and land-use regulations. The plaintiffs characterized that essentially as a “work-around,” as it would take four commissioners’ votes to amend the Comprehensive Plan, but only three to modify part of the UDC.
As it turned out, only three commissioners voted in favor of the UDC amendment on Oct 27, 2021.
Walker also has ruled that the plaintiffs in that second case have standing to pursue it.
As Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute explains it, “standing” is a legal term referring to whether a party has sustained or will sustain direct injury or harm from a specific action and that the court has the ability to redress that harm.
The plaintiffs in the second complaint are south Siesta resident Robert Sax and the homeowners associations for the Marina Del Sol condominium complex on Old Stickney Point Road, where Sax lives, and the condominium structure standing at 222 Beach Road, close to the planned site of the Calle Miramar hotel.
Initially, another south Siesta resident, James P. Wallace III, was a plaintiff in that case, as well. He withdrew last year to focus attention on another legal effort involving Siesta Key.
The trial in that civil case is set for the week of June 12.
Trying to make their case for consolidation
In the Intervenors’ motion to consolidate the two hotel complaints, they say they believe “that the principal witnesses for trial will be the same in both cases. “Other than the Plaintiffs who will testify about standing, the remaining witnesses will be the exact same land planning professionals from the County and experts hired by Plaintiffs and Intervenor Defendants in both cases,” they add.
Moreover, they point out, “[T]he factual and legal issues between the two pending cases are inextricably intertwined …” Therefore, they contend, “[T]hese cases should be consolidated for purposes of trial for
judicial efficiency and economy.”
Their motion says, “Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.270(a) provides that the court may consolidate actions ‘involving a common question of law or fact’ and take such actions to avoid unnecessary costs or
delay. Consolidation is within the sound discretion of the trial court.”
They cite the 2004 Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal case State Farm Fla. Ins. Co. v. Bonham in making that assertion.
Further, citing a 1991 opinion of the Florida First District Court of Appeal, in City of Palm Bay v. State, Dept. of Transp., they add, “ ‘Consolidation is favored in such situations in the interest of judicial economy, and to avoid the possibility of inconsistent verdicts.’ ”
Their motion also explains, “The principal issue regarding the challenges to the UDC Amendment and the special exceptions authorizing the hotels is whether they allow development on the Barrier Islands that exceeds the intensity and density allowed by the County’s zoning ordinances and regulations as of March 13, 1989 (Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1).”
The County Commission had to approve Special Exception petitions for each hotel project so “transient accommodations” — the county term for hotel and motel rooms — could be included on land zoned Commercial General on the island and so the hotels could exceed the maximum 35 feet of height in a Commercial General zone.
The motion adds, “The parties should not have to present — and the Court should not have to hear — the same evidence and argument at two separate trials. Because the same comprehensive plan consistency issues are raised in both cases, there is a risk of inconsistent rulings. Additionally,” the motion continues, “because the validity of the special exception approvals depends on the validity of the UDC Amendment, it follows that the validity of the UDC Amendment should be decided at the same time as the validity of the special exceptions.”
“[C]onsolidation is appropriate,” the motion contends, “to eliminate duplicative trials and avoid unnecessary costs and delays. Otherwise, Defendant Sarasota County and [the Intervenors] will be forced to defend the same case with the same witnesses twice.”