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Sarasota County taxpayers on the hook for $270,000 in legal fees

The County Commission approved settlement agreements on attorneys' fees for Siesta Key hotel opponents.

The proposed Calle Miramar hotel violates Sarasota County's Comprehensive Plan, according to a ruling by 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll.
The proposed Calle Miramar hotel violates Sarasota County's Comprehensive Plan, according to a ruling by 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll.
Courtesy rendering
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Defending Sarasota County’s decision to permit two hotels to be built on Siesta Key will cost taxpayers more than $270,000.

On Tuesday, the Sarasota County Commission unanimously approved, without discussion, settlements to pay attorneys' fees for two plaintiffs who prevailed in litigation against the county, challenging that commission approval of two hotels violated the county’s 1981 Comprehensive Plan. 

Commissioners approved reimbursing Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez $170,000 and 222 Beach Owners Association $101,278.20 for legal fees associated with their opposition. 

In August 2023, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll ruled in favor of Ramirez that the planned 170-room Calle Miramar in Siesta Village and a 120-room hotel planned near Old Stickney Point Road in southern Siesta Key violated the comprehensive plan in both density and intensity. Ramirez’s case was specifically against Calle Miramar, but Carroll’s ruling applied to both approvals.

In December 2023, Carroll ruled Ramirez, as the prevailing party, was entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys' fees from Sarasota County. A similar ruling was received in the 222 Beach Owners case.

According to County Manager Joshua Moye’s report, Ramirez is being compensated for 419.75 hours billed to her by Richard Grosso, 144.7 hours by attorney Martha Collins and 86.2 hours by attorney Pamela Jo Hatley. Although salaried, Deputy County Attorney David Pearce spent 401.39 hours and paralegal Rachel Carr 182.98 hours of county time on the case.

The 222 Beach Owners Association capped its attorneys' fees at $75,000 plus a $15,000 bonus and $6,200 in contributions received by others. Had they not capped their attorneys' fees, the amount billed would have been $201,950.62 for 493.90 hours. In representing the county, Pearce spent 212.25 hours and Carr 134.1 hours on that case. In total, the county’s legal department spent 930.72 hours unsuccessfully defending the lawsuit.

After winning her case last August, Ramirez told the Observer, “The important thing is to send the message to the county that Siesta Key has the highest residential density in all of Sarasota County, except for downtown Sarasota, and I really want to send a strong message that we don't have the capacity out here. We don't have enough infrastructure to handle all these people, and that will hopefully preclude them from constantly going after trying to increase density out here.”

It has not. 

In October, Benderson Development applied for a privately initiated comprehensive plan amendment that would allow it to build a 210-room hotel in Siesta Village at a height of 85 feet on the site of a strip center at 5221 and 5239 Ocean Blvd. On Nov. 28 the County Commission voted 3-1, with Mark Smith opposed and Joe Neunder absent, to allow Benderson’s comprehensive plan amendment to move through the county’s vetting process.



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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