SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) — Residents on Siesta Key have been working to protect the island’s charm and public safety for years as developers brought forward hotel proposals beyond density restrictions that were in place for the barrier island. Much of the concerns surrounded overcrowding, noise, traffic, and emergency evacuation routes.

Back in 2021, commissioners approved a controversial 170-room hotel despite a significant amount of pushback from locals. Longtime resident Lourdes Ramirez decided to file suit against Sarasota County soon thereafter.

Her lawsuit alleged Sarasota County violated its own Comprehensive Plan when commissioners voted to approve the high-density hotel. There were eight policies listed in the suit. This Monday, a Sarasota County judge made a ruling in her favor on one of those points.

“The most important one which is you cannot increase density and intensity on the barrier islands is the one that he backed us on and that was so significant because that is what we have been saying all along,” said Ramirez. “It is so important not to increase and add more people onto this key. We are already over-populated, and for him to agree with us was a huge win for us.”

The judge’s ruling stated “all textual and contextual clues reject the County and Intervenors’ argument there is no limit as to density to build hotels on Siesta Key.”

Now, Ramirez explains the developer cannot continue with the 170-room hotel plans. She says they will have to start from scratch and follow the local laws in place, as a result of the judge’s ruling.

“Obviously, the county commissioners are not going to be listening to us, and I think if we need to go to court, we need to do it. Otherwise, they are going to get away with always violating the code with no consequence, and they really need to be held accountable,” said Ramirez.

It has been a long and costly court battle, but Ramirez says saving Siesta Key is worth the fight. She thanks residents who helped support her cause both through financial means and emotional support. She says it’s a shame county commissioners ‘ignored’ the pleas of residents two years ago and taxpayer money had to be spent to fight a decision that should have never passed through the commission.

“I think the county commission should not consider appealing this. They are going to lose the appeal, so why waste the taxpayers dollars. Just honor the code that has been around since 1975 and just leave Siesta Key alone,” said Ramirez.

Sarasota County does not comment on active or pending litigation. It remains unclear whether or not they will file an appeal. The county appealed a state court ruling in a similar case Ramirez won earlier this year.

Siesta Key Association president Catherine Luckner said she felt “lifted up” when she first heard the news regarding the judge’s ruling and she’s glad the community didn’t give up.

“It is a win and it shows that a comprehensive plan, which many people in the world I don’t have a clue what those words really mean until they need to, it is like a constitution for our county. It tells you how you do things, what you can do, where you can go, and how you can do it, what you can build and what you cannot. It is a serious document, and it was worked on with very good people for a long time. I am thankful that someone paid attention and took the words to meaning and now somethings will have to be undone, and we are looking forward to going there next,” said Luckner.