South Siesta resident Wallace withdraws from lawsuit over County Commission’s 2021 approval of two hotels on the island

Three plaintiffs remain in complaint fighting projects planned on Calle Miramar on Old Stickney Point Road

South Siesta Key resident James P. Wallace III has withdrawn from the lawsuit filed in 2021 against the Sarasota County Commission over the board’s approval of two high-rise hotels on the barrier island, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

In a document filed with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court on Aug. 13, Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes wrote that Wallace no longer would be a party to the case but that the other plaintiffs would proceed with it.

Those other parties are Robert Sax, a resident of the Marina Del Sol condominium complex on Old Stickney Point Road; 222 Beach Road Owners Association, which represents the residents of a complex across Beach Road from the site of a 170-room, eight-story hotel that the County Commission approved in October 2021 on a split vote; and the Marina Del Sol Condominium Association.

They will continue to be represented by David Smolker and Gunnar Westergom of the Smolker Matthews firm in Tampa, the court document pointed out.

In response to a News Leader request for a comment on the decision, Brookes wrote in an Aug. 16 email, “We felt Jim’s participation was no longer needed for a Siesta Key residents’ victory on the Siesta Key hotel issues. Dr. Wallace has other legal matters demanding his attention, which are difficult enough to manage given his age, and has other commitments in his life presently that require his time. ”

Just a few weeks ago, Circuit Judge Stephen Walker, who is presiding over the case, ruled against Sarasota County and intervenors in the litigation — the developers of the two hotels and the owners of the parcels planned for the projects — on the county’s Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit.

Assistant County Attorney David Pearce and the attorneys for the intervenors — lawyers with the Hill Ward Henderson firm in Tampa — had maintained that only south Siesta resident Sax potentially could be considered to have “standing” to pursue the litigation.

“Standing” is a legal term referring to a person who would be more adversely affected by specific action than others.

Judge Walker rejected the defendants’ arguments, writing, “This is a quintessential Category 3 case,” referring to what he called the “seminal case on standing [in Florida],” Renard v. Dade County, in which the Florida Supreme Court issued a 1972 opinion.

“Category 3,” Walker explained of the Renard ruling, “requires that in a challenge attacking an ordinance on grounds that it was not enacted in accordance with proper procedures, the litigant need only be an affected resident, citizen, or property owner of the local governmental jurisdiction in question.”

The plaintiffs have argued that the Sarasota County Commission should have amended the county’s Comprehensive Plan to eliminate the consideration of hotel rooms as additional residential dwelling units, instead of approving an amendment to the county’s Unified Development Code that affects properties countywide.

It takes four commissioners’ “Yes” votes to amend the Comprehensive Plan, the plaintiffs have pointed, but only three to change the Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the county’s land use and zoning regulations.

Commissioners Nancy Detert and Christian Ziegler opposed the UDC amendment, as well as the first hotel project — the one planned on four parcels between Beach Road and Calle Miramar.

Prior to that 3-2 board vote, on Oct. 27, 2021, an applicant could construct no more than 26 hotel rooms per acre on property zoned Commercial General, which is the designation of both the Calle Miramar hotel site and the property located at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road, where the second hotel has been planned. The latter initiative, which entails a seven-story, 120-room structure, did win Ziegler’s vote of approval, leaving Detert alone in the minority following the Nov. 2, 2021 public hearing.

Prior to the filing of the lawsuit with his fellow south Siesta resident Sax and the two homeowners associations, Wallace began litigation to try to halt the installation of a traffic signal at the Avenue B and C intersection of Stickney Point Road. That stoplight must be in place before Benderson Development Co. can construct its Siesta Promenade mixed-use project on approximately 24 acres in the northwest quadrant of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, as stipulated by the commissioners when they approved the Siesta Promenade plans on Dec. 12, 2018.

Wallace is awaiting a ruling from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal on whether oral arguments in that case will be conducted in-person or via Zoom. In February 2021, he filed his initial action against the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which issued a permit to allow the stoplight to be erected at Avenue B and C.

As with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court case, FDOT and intervenor Siesta 41 Associates LLP — a Benderson affiliate that formally is the Siesta Promenade developer — have contended that Wallace does not have standing to challenge FDOT’s decision.