Fire district gears up to handle resort lawsuit

West Manatee Fire Rescue has a lawsuit on its hands.

With attorney Jim Dye set to retire, WMFR commissioners voted 5-0 Nov. 19 to appoint attorney Maggie Mooney as the district’s legal counsel.

Mooney, who attended the meeting, began her tenure as WMFR’s attorney with the announcement that Shawn Kaleta, an island real estate developer, filed a lawsuit in circuit court Nov. 18 against the district regarding the Bali Hai Beach Resort. He also filed an administrative appeal to a district decision on the 43-room motel remodel.

Mooney said Kaleta is challenging fire marshal Rodney Kwiatkowski’s decision requiring the installation of a sprinkler system at the motel, 6900 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Kaleta owns and is remodeling the property.

Attorney Jason Miller of the Najmy Thomson P.L. law firm filed the suit on Kaleta’s behalf, making the case that Kwiatowski’s interpretation of the Florida Fire Code delays the remodel of the resort and could cost the builder more than $15,000 in damages.

Kaleta’s resort has 43 rooms and suites, and a sprinkler system must be installed throughout, according to Kwiatowski’s decision.

Mooney said Kaleta does not want to install the required sprinklers.

Only one- and two-family residential dwellings are exempt from the sprinkler requirement, according to the Life Safety Code, a provision of the Florida Fire Prevention Code.

The administrative appeal, scheduled at the Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue District’s administration building Nov. 25 by the Manatee Fire Code Appeals Board — a seven-member volunteer board — was delayed.

Mooney told WMFR commissioners that Kaleta’s lawsuit could go forward regardless of the hearing outcome.

While she could represent the district in the case, she recommended hiring a litigation attorney to handle the case.

It’s as though “she’s our primary care physician, referring us to a specialist,” Commission Chair David Bishop said.

Attorneys Martin Garcia and Josh Dell of the Matthews Eastmoore law office in Sarasota were named Nov. 20 as attorneys for WMFR.

The case is assigned to Judge Charles Sniffen.

Neither Kaleta nor Miller replied with comments by The Islander’s press time Dec. 2.


New WMFR attorney:

Maggie Mooney-Portale is a partner in Persson, Cohen & Mooney, P.A., attorneys and counselors at law in Sarasota. The firm specializes in city, county and local government law. She serves as the attorney for the town of Longboat Key and for a number of fire districts and community development districts.

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