Siesta Key's Lawsuits Wins
In 2021, Lourdes Ramirez, president of Siesta Key Community, filed two lawsuits against the Sarasota County government. She claimed that Sarasota County violated the growth laws known as the Comprehensive Plan when they approved changes to the zoning code that allowed mega-sized hotels on Siesta Key.
In 2023, the Courts agreed! In April, the Florida Dept. of Administrative Hearings Judge ruled the County's 2021 change to the zoning code is not compliant with the Comprehensive Plan policy (2.9.1) which prohibits increases in density and intensity of development on Siesta Key (Link to DOAH decision). In August, a Sarasota County Circuit Court Judge ruled the County's approval of a mega-sized hotel violates the Comprehensive Plan policy 2.9.1 (Link to Circuit Court decision)
The County is appealing the state's decision. The Siesta Key Community needs your continued financial support! (Donation information link). We must protect our fragile island from overdevelopment. For news coverage on the lawsuit and court decisions, visit our News page (Link). Have questions? See our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section below.
Legal Challenge October Updates!
Circuit Court: The Circuit Court issued a final judgment in favor of Lourdes Ramirez. The next step in the Circuit Court case is a hearing on attorney fees scheduled for December 1st.
State Court: Sarasota County filed a motion to dismiss the appeal of the Department of Administrative hearing judge's ruling in favor of Lourdes Ramirez.
Want to know more about Lourdes Ramirez? Visit her personal website at www.LourdesRamirez,net
The fight against mega-hotels on Siesta Key is a grass-roots battle fought and funded by citizens. Siesta Key Community's founder Ms. Lourdes Ramirez won two important legal challenges in 2023. These successful lawsuits prove that the zoning codes established in 1989 should not be changed or re-interpreted to approve high-density development on our barrier island. Please join us in protecting the quality of life, safety, and the precious environment of Siesta Key.
To pay by check or to pay Lawyers directly, see below (Link to other forms of payment)
Please note - Contributions to the Siesta Key Legal Defense Fund are not tax deductible
FAQs of Siesta Key's Legal Challenges
How did Sarasota County government change the rules that apply to hotels on Siesta Key?
On October 27, 2021, Sarasota County Commissioners made two major decisions involving the development of mega-sized hotels on Siesta Key:
1- The County Commissioners changed the local zoning regulations called the Unified Development Code (UDC), to eliminate the maximum density limits for hotels. Previously, hotels were limited to a maximum of 26 units per acre.
2- After changing the UDC, the County Commissioners voted to approve a 170-room hotel on less than an acre in the Siesta Key’s Village area. A week later, they approved a 120-room hotel on 1.17 acres on Old Stickney Point Road on Siesta Key. A few months after that they approved a 120-room hotel on 2 acres at the old Wells Fargo location.
What are the rules governing development on Siesta Key that SKC wants to remain in place?
For decades, the State required local governments to adopt a Comprehensive Plan to manage growth in their community (FL Statutes 163.3177). The Comprehensive Plan must contain policies that address growth including chapters on the environment, land use, and coastal policies (FL Statutes 163.3178). In a court case, the judge compared the Comprehensive Plan as a ‘constitution’ for all future development (Court case Machado v. Musgrove, 1988).
To implement the Comprehensive Plan, the local government must have zoning regulations. Sarasota’s zoning regulations called the UDC, include how our community is broken up into districts (residential, commercial, industrial, etc) and which type of uses (single family, multifamily, retail, hotels, etc.) are allowed in those districts. It also includes maximum density and intensity standards for each use. Before 2021, hotels were limited to a maximum of 26 units per acre.
How did Sarasota County violate the rules governing development on Siesta Key?
Sarasota County’s Comprehensive Plan has multiple policies governing the barrier islands of Sarasota including Siesta Key. Among the Barrier Island protections in the Comp Plan, there is one policy that states the ‘The intensity and density of future development on the Barrier Islands of Sarasota shall not exceed that allowed by zoning ordinances and regulations existing as of March 13, 1989.”’
Essentially, the policy is clear that development standards on the barrier islands were ‘frozen’ as of 1989. No changes can be made to increase the density or intensity beyond what was allowed at that time. When Sarasota County Commissioners voted to remove the maximum density of 26 units per acre as it was in 1989 to allow more rooms for hotels then it violated this rule.
Why were there two lawsuits filed in 2021?
There are two lawsuits because there were two actions taken by County Commissioners involving hotels on Siesta Key at a public hearing in October 2021.
Lawsuit 1 is a state level challenge to changes made to the zoning code by County Commissioners
Florida statutes require the county's zoning codes (UDC) to comply with the state-mandated Comprehensive Plan. A legal challenge to the county's zoning code change must be filed at the state level with the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). A DOAH lawsuit was filed in December 2021 with the claim the County changed the zoning code that allowed mega-sized hotels on Siesta Key in violation of our Comprehensive Plan's policies and a favorable judgment was received in April 2023. The County and hotel developers are appealing this decision.
Lawsuit 2 is a county level challenge to the approval of one mega-hotel that increased density and intensity beyond our Comprehensive Plan
To challenge the County’s approval of a 170-unit hotel on less than one acre in the Village area, a lawsuit had to be filed in Circuit Court. The legal claim is similar to the state lawsuit which is there is a clear violation of the Comprehensive Plan. While the state lawsuit is about zoning code changes, the Circuit Court challenge is on the approved mega-hotel itself. Our claim is that the hotel should have no more than 25 units instead of the approved 170 units. On August 21st, Circuit Court Judge agreed - Sarasota County violated Comprehensive Plan when they removed maximum hotel room limits on Siesta Key.
To recap, one lawsuit is a claim against the zoning code change, and the other on the approved mega- hotel. Each claim must be settled in different courts.
There is a third lawsuit on the other approved hotel on Old Stickney Point Road which is handled by Rob Sax, Marina Del Sol, and 222 Beach Road. That final judgment on that lawsuit is coming soon.