After people become acquainted with Lourdes Ramirez, they often ask if she has a law degree because of her expertise in county issues.
The answer is no, but in her first job, as a contract administrator for American Metals Mining, she worked on numerous U.S. Department of Defense contracts. “You get to learn a lot about clauses and ‘ands,’ ‘ifs’ and ‘buts,’” she said. “It makes the (county) zoning code look easy.”
Her first foray into Sarasota County zoning regulations came after she and her husband moved into their Key home in 1999. Ramirez had become friends with neighbor Ann Kaplan, a member of the Siesta Key Association, and Kaplan was “upset because the lot next to her was being split.”
Ramirez started attending SKA meetings and found the board members passionate about quality-of-life issues on the island.
“That’s how I got introduced to local politics, and you can say, ‘the rest is history,’” Ramirez added with a laugh.
Ramirez joined the SKA board as treasurer in 2003 and was elected president a year later. By then, she had had the opportunity to participate in the county’s zoning code update. Anne McClung, then county planning director, “basically took me under her wing,” Ramirez said, and taught her the intricacies of those rules.
Therefore, Ramirez was well armed when developers later sought to increase density on the Key through construction of duplexes. The SKA won that fight.
Ramirez credits her parents for her determination not to back down from anything.
“They believed in educating us out of the ghetto,” she said of herself and her four siblings, who grew up in Washington Heights, N.Y. “It gave me a great sense of what you can do.”
Until she stepped down from the SKA board in March 2011, she said, “I think (density) was my No. 1 issue … I don’t believe you can squeeze (development) into every inch of a barrier island … I understand, because I lived in New York City. I didn’t move to Siesta Key to live in the same kind of environment.”
Although she was ready for a change after leaving the SKA board, Ramirez wanted to remain active in the community. She set up her own website with updates on Key and county issues, www.siestakeycommunity.com, and continued to attend SKA and other organization meetings. However, she found herself constrained in what she could do as an individual. That led to her involvement with the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations. She took over as CONA’s president this month.
In her new role, Ramirez said she plans to fight for county transparency in zoning and planning matters; argue against rezoning parcels for new, cheaper development instead of renovating existing commercial spaces; and stay on top of the planned update of the county’s comprehensive plan. The last issue is of special concern, she said, because the state department that used to review proposed comprehensive plan changes was eliminated.
“Even though I have the reputation (with developers) of being difficult,” she said, “it’s a good thing … I like the idea of being able to have (a) discussion (with developers), and I like the idea of being firm in my position … If we don’t (reach a consensus), let’s respect each other’s position.”
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