In welcome news Wednesday, the Town of Fort Myers Beach and Margaritaville-FMB (TPI-FMB) received word that the last remaining lawsuit holding up construction of the Margaritaville Resort had been ruled in the Town’s favor, clearing the way for demolition and construction on the long-awaited resort in downtown Fort Myers Beach. Earlier this summer, after the civil lawsuit had been dropped, Chairman of the TPI Hospitality Board of Directors said they planned to start construction by January 5, 2020 and Margaritaville project spokesman John Gucciardo confirmed that the project still intends to being demolition on that date with construction to follow.
The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach unanimously approved the project on May 21, 2018. The resort complex that will include 254 rooms, with a beach-side water park, restaurants, ground floor parking and related amenities, will sit on ground that once held hotel and retail businesses before Hurricane Charley roared into town in August 2004.
On August 8, 2018, Island resident Chris Patton, with the support of Robert Conidaris, owner of the Lani Kai Island Resort, filed two lawsuits against the Town, alleging that council failed to follow its own Comprehensive Plan in approving the resort and that it would impact Patton’s quality of life as she lives close to the resort site. On June 30, 2019, Patton withdrew the civil lawsuit, but left the Writ of Certiorari request in place. The civil suit cannot be refiled as the deadline has passed.
On September 11, 2019, Judge Alane C. Laboda issued an order denying Patton’s petition for Writ of Certiorari. In her order the judge reviews each of Patton’s claims and rules in the Town’s favor, saying, “the Court find the Town’s approval of the deviations and rezoning was consistent with the Town’s LDC, applied the correct law, and was supported by competent substantial evidence in the record.” She continued, stating that any challenge alleging inconsistency with the Comprehensive Plan or “contract zoning” cannot be challenged via a Writ of Certiorari, but must be done in a declaratory lawsuit, which Patton did and has already dismissed on June 30, 2019.
In the ruling Judge Laboda points out that there was a delay in the mayor (Tracey Gore) signing the ordinance approving the project. Town Council approved it with revisions on May 21, 2018. Gore did not sign the ordinance until July 9, 2018, a full seven weeks after it was approved. The judge’s ruling notes that Patton filed the lawsuits on August 8, 2018, within 30 days of the mayor’s signature.
Gucciardo explained that while the appeal process is available to Patton, an appeal would have to be filed within 30 days. If requested, that appeal would be of limited scope, essentially focused on whether the Town followed procedural due process and whether Judge Laboda missed any essential points of law in her ruling.
“The Margaritaville – Fort Myers Beach team is pleased with the ruling and moving forward having cleared this legal hurdle.,” Gucciardo said.
Mayor Anita Cereceda was also pleased with the ruling. “I am so glad we are where we are today! We need to look forward; we don’t need to be vengeful about the past. We have a bright future!”
“Margaritaville is creating a buzz for our community,” Cereceda said. “Wherever I go, people ask me about this project. People take ownership of this island, no matter where they live and they are very interested in what is going on here. People have also been rather surprised when I mention that this big project for our downtown has been held up for over a year. I am just so relieved that the project can go forward now.”