Santa Rosa will appeal a court ruling ordering the city to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees to a homebuilders group that sued it over a controversial tax on new subdivisions.

City Attorney Caroline Fowler, disclosed Tuesday afternoon that the council had met behind closed doors and voted 5-0 to pursue the appeal. Mayor Ernesto Olivares and Councilwoman Susan Gorin were absent.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Mark Tansil in May awarded more than $244,000 to the Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm in Sacramento that represented the Home Builders Association of Northern California, Inc. in its two-year suit against the city.

The lawsuit challenged the city's 2008 tax surcharge on most new home construction contending it required property owners to give up their voting rights on annexation in exchange for the right to develop their properties.

Tansil concluded the law "unfairly tampers with the elective process" and that the case "vindicated important constitutional rights that affect the public interest." He awarded the three attorneys $350 to $450 per hour.