Circuit Judge Carroll to conduct 8:30 a.m. proceeding in person and via Zoom
Starting at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, July 7, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll has scheduled a two-hour hearing on motions for summary judgment in Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez’s 2021 lawsuit seeking to prevent the construction of a 170-room, eight-story hotel on Calle Miramar, on the edge of Siesta Village.
After the original presiding judge recused himself earlier this year, over a conflict-of-interest issue, Carroll was assigned the case. On April 20, during a status conference on the litigation, Carroll told the parties that he wanted to review a transcript of the summary judgment hearing that Circuit Judge Stephen Walker held on Jan. 6, prior to Walker’s recusal. Then, Carroll added, he would schedule another summary judgment hearing to allow Ramirez’s attorneys and David M. Pearce, the assistant county attorney handling the litigation on the County Commission’s behalf, to offer arguments.
“Summary judgment” refers to a judge issuing a ruling in favor of one party in a case without conducting a trial. If Carroll decides at the conclusion of the July 7 hearing that a trial still needs to be held, that has been scheduled for early November.
Moreover, on April 20, he won final agreement of the parties to consolidate Ramirez’s case with a separate lawsuit involving three plaintiffs seeking to stop construction of both the Calle Miramar hotel and a seven-story, 120-room hotel that the County Commission in November 2021 approved at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road, on south Siesta Key.
The 134-page transcript of the Jan. 6 summary judgment hearing in Ramirez’s litigation was entered into her case docket on June 1, court records show.
Additionally in April, subsequent to the January proceeding, Florida Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk ruled that the County Commission had violated the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth. She concurred with Ramirez’s contention that Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 in the Comprehensive Plan restricts residential density on the county’s barrier islands to that in place as of March 13, 1989.
Assistant County Attorney Pearce had maintained that subsequent updates of the Comprehensive plan had overridden that policy.
Van Wyk also ruled that the County Commission violated two other Comprehensive Plan policies: 2.9.2, which also deals with the intensity and density of future development on the barrier islands; and Coastal Policy 1.2.3, which discourages hotel and motel construction in the county’s A and B evacuation zones, which are in floodplains that are most vulnerable to storm surge.
During the County Commission’s Oct. 27, 2021 public hearing on the application for the Calle Miramar hotel, an attorney for the project team — William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota — argued that national standards place hotel and motel rooms in a commercial category. Therefore, Merrill said, they should not be counted for residential purposes in Sarasota County.
However, instead of making an effort to amend the Comprehensive Plan to incorporate Merrill’s assertion, the commissioners voted 3-2 to modify the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the zoning and land-use regulations, to eliminate the counting of tourist accommodations for residential purposes throughout most of the county.
It would have taken four votes to amend the Comprehensive Plan, following a months-long process of submitting that proposed amendment to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for review, as required by state law.
After hearing testimony in November 2022, during a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding, and reviewing all of the documents entered into evidence in the case, Van Wyk wrote in her final order that she found she found that the county’s 1981 Comprehensive Plan “specifically discusses the Barrier Islands as an area of special concern, acknowledging the ‘problems associated with development on the barrier islands,’ including ‘the detrimental effect of building along the active beach areas’ and ‘difficulties of evacuating large numbers of people from the Keys in time of emergency.”
Further, she noted, that the 1981 Comprehensive Plan described Siesta Key as “ ‘highly developed’ and ‘contain[ing] some of the County’s most intensive residential development.’ ” That plan, she continued, “then states that it ‘recognizes the existing development represents the maximum levels of development on the Keys[.]’ (emphasis added).”
The county, plus the developer of the Calle Miramar hotel and the owners of the site where it would stand, are appealing Van Wyk’s order to the Florida First District Court of Appeal, in Tallahassee.
Assistant County Attorney Pearce and the attorneys for the developers and property owners involved in both hotel projects — who are called Intervenors — have contended that Van Wyk erred in her ruling.
In the meantime, one of Ramirez’s attorneys, Richard Grosso of Plantation, has told The Sarasota News Leader that he believes Van Wyk’s decision will have a significant bearing on the Circuit Court ruling.
In April, Grosso and Ramirez’s other attorneys, Martha Collins and Pamela Jo Hatley of the Collins Law Group in Tampa, filed a Notice of Supplemental Authority with the Circuit Court, providing a copy for Judge Carroll of Van Wyk’s final order.
The July 7 hearing will be conducted in person in Courtroom 6C of the Silvertooth Judicial Center on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota and via Zoom. The meeting ID is 353 234 4884. The password is 756433. For those wishing to join by audio, the number is 253-215-8782.