BRADENTON – West Manatee Fire Rescue commissioners had a couple of legal decisions to make when the board met Nov. 19, first to select new legal counsel and second, to decide how to move forward with a pending lawsuit.
In a unanimous vote, commissioners appointed attorney Maggie Mooney as the district’s legal counsel, replacing the retiring Jim Dye. Mooney also represents four other Manatee County fire districts.
In her first act as the attorney for WMFR, Mooney informed commissioners that a lawsuit had been filed against them in Manatee County Circuit Court and an administrative appeal in the same case also had been set for a hearing on Nov. 25 with the Manatee County Fire Code Appeals Board.
The appeals board is a seven-member volunteer board made up of local professionals. This will be the first appeals case that has gone before the board.
Mooney said that local builder and real estate investor Shawn Kaleta had filed both the lawsuit and the administrative appeal on Nov. 18, appealing a decision made by Fire Marshal Rodney Kwiatkowski to require a sprinkler system installed at the Bali Hai Beach Resort. The resort is owned and being remodeled by Kaleta. Mooney said that the administrative appeal should technically have been ruled on before a lawsuit was filed but that in this case, both had been done at the same time. Until the administrative hearing is held, she said the lawsuit cannot be heard in court.
The appeals hearing was held at Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue District’s administration building Nov. 25 after press time for The Sun.
On behalf of Kaleta’s Bali Hai JV LLC, attorney Jason Miller filed an emergency motion for permanent injunction, arguing that Kwiatkowski’s interpretation of the Florida Fire Code, requiring sprinkler system was delaying the completion of the remodel of the property at 6900 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach. In the motion, he alleges that as a result of the requirement for fire sprinklers that Kaleta will suffer irreparable financial harm that would likely be unrecoverable.
In the lawsuit, Miller asks for declaratory relief and preliminary and permanent injunctions due to the alleged halting of construction and stopping of the permitting process related to the requirement for fire sprinklers.
The Life Safety Code, a provision of the Florida Fire Prevention Code, says that only one and two-family dwelling structures are exempt from a requirement for sprinkler systems. The Bali Hai has 48 suite and hotel room units.
The lawsuit claims that the resort can be booked for $795 per night during season and that Kaleta could suffer monetary damages in excess of $15,000 not including attorney costs.
Mooney said that if WMFR were to win the administrative appeal and have Kwiatkowski’s ruling upheld, it doesn’t mean that the lawsuit won’t go forward. She recommended commissioners authorize Chief Ben Rigney to enter into a contract for specialist litigation attorneys to fight the case. On Nov. 20, attorneys Martin Garcia and Josh Dell of The Law Firm of Matthews Eastmoore out of Sarasota were entered into the court record as attorneys for WMFR. The case has been assigned to Judge Charles Sniffen.