Florida Keys News
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Hotelier files lawsuit to keep power on

ISLAMORADA -- Hotelier Paul Bates sued the village in federal court Monday in an effort to prevent the town from having the power shut down at the 11-room bed-and-breakfast building that is part of his Coconut Cove Resort.

Bates also lives in the building with wife Magda and their five children.

The village's ongoing effort to have the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative shut off power at the bed-and-breakfast is not a fire safety measure, Bates' attorney Patty Silver asserts in the 16-page complaint. Rather, she says, it is part of a longstanding retaliatory campaign against the hotelier for speaking out against the town.

"The order to shut off the plaintiffs' power in the absence of any actual emergency has no rational basis and is based upon an entirely illegitimate animus," Silver wrote.

She has asked the court to declare that the village and Islamorada building official Gerry Albertson lack the authority to order that the power be shut off.

In addition to the village, the suit names Albertson and the FKEC.

The power company said Monday that it won't cut the electricity at Bates' Windley Key bed-and-breakfast building for now.

"FKEC wishes to remain neutral in this matter and we have elected to preserve the status quo by leaving the power on until the federal judge has heard and decided on the complaint filed by Mr. Bates," Cris Beaty, the utility's chief financial officer, wrote in an email to the Free Press. "FKEC will act accordingly on that decision."

The utility's decision came despite the fact that five days earlier Albertson had decided to sign a statement that the FKEC had asked for as prerequisite to turning off the power at the Coconut Cove building. It states that the disconnect is "necessary to eliminate an immediate hazard to life or property."

Albertson had previously said he wouldn't sign the statement because it didn't quote directly from the building code. He declined to comment on the suit Monday. Village attorney Nina Boniske did not return a Free Press phone call for comment.

The dispute over fire safety at the bed-and-breakfast building has been on going since a May 2011 inspection, when the village found several deficiencies, including the lack of a sprinkler system.

In the inspection the town defined the building as a three-story hotel. Bates, though, contends that it should be subject to the less stringent fire regulations associated with a two-story bed-and-breakfast. The building has two levels of rooms, which sit partially over stilts and partially over unfinished storage. A modest housekeeping room also occupies the ground level.

At a hearing in early June, Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia rejected a request from Bates to block the village from shutting down the power.

In addition to asking the federal court to now decide the issue, Bates is asking for attorney's fees and damages.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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