Two Siesta plaintiffs in hotel lawsuits establish new nonprofit organization to try to preserve quality of life for island residents, visitors and property owners

Circuit Court judge grants new motion filed in Ramirez lawsuit to allow County Commission extra time for vote on amount of attorneys’ fees she should receive

Image from the not-for-profit’s website.

Two individuals who were plaintiffs in the 2021 lawsuits filed over the County Commission’s votes of approval of high-rise hotels on Siesta Key have founded a new community organization, they announced this week.

Lourdes Ramirez, who prevailed in two different legal challenges related to the hotel issue, and south Siesta resident Robert Sax are calling the not-for-profit Protect Siesta Key, noting in a Jan. 22 news release that it was established in November 2023.

The organization’s mission, the release explains, is “to promote good governance to enhance the public health, safety, and preservation of the quality of life for residents, visitors, and property owners on Siesta Key through educational awareness, advocacy, and, if necessary, appropriate legal action.”

“During the last go-around on mega-hotels,” Ramirez said in the news release, “I worked on the problem with just my attorneys. I developed white papers, spoke before the County Commission in 2021, and eventually filed the lawsuit [in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court]. Although individuals have supported me by donating to the effort,” she added, “I was restricted from working with anyone but my attorneys because of the sensitive legal process. After we won our respective lawsuits, Rob and I spoke about combining our efforts as we face the next mega-hotel challenge. We have experience and extensive knowledge on the topic so it made sense to work together,” Ramirez said in the release.

On Nov. 28, 2023, the County Commission voted 3-1 to grant a request from Benderson Development Co. to allow county Planning Division staff to process a series of proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments and modifications to the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) to make high-rise hotels possible on the county’s barrier islands.

These are part of the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments that a representative of Benderson Development submitted to county staff in an Oct. 2, 2023 letter. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A representative of Benderson Development had asked that the amendments undergo that staff review outside of the normal cycle for such privately proposed amendments.

(Commissioner Mark Smith, who lives on Siesta Key, cast the “No” vote. Commissioner Joe Neunder of Nokomis, who represents south Siesta Key as part of his District 4 territory, was absent from the Nov. 28 meeting.)

Benderson is proposing a hotel standing up to 85 feet in height, with 147 rooms, on two parcels it owns in Siesta Key Village. The property is home mostly to retail businesses.

Both Ramirez’s Circuit Court lawsuit and her 2021 challenge through the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) focused on her assertion that Future Land Use Policy 2.9.1 in the county Comprehensive Plan limited residential density and intensity on Siesta Key to that in place as of March 13, 1989. Thus, she contended, a UDC amendment that the commissioners approved on a 3-2 vote on Oct. 27, 2021, which eliminated the counting of hotel and motel rooms for residential density purposes, was inconsistent with the Comprehensive plan.

Sax and his co-plaintiffs in their Circuit Court complaint — also filed in late November 2021 — stressed that it would take four commissioners voting “Yes” to approve an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the community, whereas only three affirmative votes were needed for a UDC amendment to go into effect.

The Sax lawsuit involved two homeowner associations affected by the County Commission’s 2021 approval not only of a high-rise hotel on Calle Miramar, on the edge of Siesta Key, but also of a seven-story hotel planned at the intersection of Old Stickney Point Road and Peacock Road on south Siesta.

This is a view of the hotel planned on Old Stickney Point Road, looking southwest from the intersection of Peacock Road and Old Stickney Point Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

(Along with their action on Benderson’s petition for the out-of-cycle review of its proposed amendments, the county commissioners in December 2023 agreed to waive a county regulation so the developers of the Calle Miramar hotel could accelerate their application process in an effort to gain a new vote of approval for that project, provided the Benderson amendments win the necessary four votes to go into effect.)

James P. Wallace III, also of south Siesta, originally was one of the plaintiffs in the Sax case; Wallace dropped out to focus on other litigation he was pursuing in regard to issues on the Key.

The Jan. 22 news release quoted Sax, as well: “The County fails to accept that these proposed mega-hotels, and others sure to follow, are damaging to the health, safety and quality of life of the residents of Siesta Key and would destroy the charm and beauty of the Island which drives the tourism fueling Sarasota’s economy. The existing Siesta infrastructure cannot support this type of development, and rather than improve Sarasota’s economy as the County believes, an influx of these hotels is more than likely to damage it. We need the support of everyone in the County to help preserve Siesta Key as the very desirable destination for residents and tourists that it is today.”

The release further noted that Protect Siesta Key is raising funds to support its efforts to stop Benderson’s proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan. For more information, visit the website at

The release added that Ramirez “is working on transitioning from the Siesta Key Legal Defense Fund to Protect Siesta Key. She asks for patience as the website and fundraising accounts are in the process of being changed.”

Status of the Circuit Court cases

On Dec. 12, 2023, the County Commission voted unanimously to formally repeal the Oct. 27, 2021 UDC amendment regarding hotel and motel room residential density. That effectively ended both Ramirez’s Circuit Court case and the one that Sax and his co-plaintiffs filed, except for a determination about attorneys’ fees.

Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit website

Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll, who issued the Aug. 21, 2023 ruling in favor of Ramirez, agreed on Jan. 22 to a motion from Ramirez’s attorney, Richard Grosso of Plantation, to allow for an extension of the “deadline for filings relative to the amount of reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs in this matter …”

In December 2023, Carroll formally deemed Ramirez the “prevailing party” in her complaint against the county and said that she was entitled to attorneys’ fees, but only from the county. He denied Grosso’s request for the award of attorneys’ fees from the developers of the proposed Calle Miramar hotel, citing Florida law.

The due date for the filings in regard to the costs and fees was Feb. 12, Grosso continued in his Jan. 19 motion.

However, Grosso wrote, “After conferral, the Plaintiff and Defendant [the county] have agreed that an extension of time until March 15, 2024 would, given the meeting schedule of the Board of County Commissioners, allow for a greater opportunity for the Plaintiff and Defendant to reach an agreement on the award and thus preclude the need the expenditure of further resources by the parties and judicial labor on this issue.”
Grosso added, “This motion, after conferral, is unopposed by either the County or the Intervenor.”

On Dec. 5, 2023, the attorneys for Sax and his fellow plaintiffs — the homeowners association for the condominium complex standing at 222 Beach Road, near the proposed site of the Calle Miramar hotel — and the Marina Del Sol Condominium Association — filed a motion, seeking an order from Judge Carroll declaring them the prevailing party in their lawsuit and, therefore, entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees and costs.

Marina Del Sol is directly east of the site of the proposed south Siesta hotel, whose developer is Gary Kompothecras, a Siesta businessman. Sax lives in Marina Del Sol.

David Smolker of the Tampa firm Smolker Matthews, is the principal attorney for Sax and the two homeowners associations.

Following a Jan. 16 case management conference, Judge Carroll issued the Final Judgment in the Sax case on Jan. 17, court records show.

In that order, Carroll noted, “The Court reserves jurisdiction to determine which parties area the prevailing party for purposes of section 163.3215(8)(c) [of the] Florida Statutes, and to award attorneys’ fees or costs or both.”

1 thought on “Two Siesta plaintiffs in hotel lawsuits establish new nonprofit organization to try to preserve quality of life for island residents, visitors and property owners”

  1. Ms Ramirez and Mr. Sax are our modern Don Quixotes, our Davids vs Goliath.
    I am amazed and impressed at their dedication. May the power be with them!
    Wishing them success in their joint venture. Please take care of yourselves.

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