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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Belleair attorney: No grounds for lawsuit blocking Belleview Biltmore sale

In a follow-up to this month’s contentious debate over whether to rezone the Belleview Biltmore hotel property, on Tuesday Belleair commissioners will discuss their attorney’s legal opinion that Belleair has no grounds to seek an injunction blocking the former hotel’s owners from selling to a developer who won’t restore the landmark.

Commissioner Stephen Fowler had called for the injunction, saying such a sale would violate the town’s historic preservation ordinance.

But Town Attorney Dave Ottinger wrote in a memo this week that “adequate protection” to preserve the hotel is already built into the ordinance’s stringent demolition permitting process.

“Attempting to enjoin the sale of the hotel property would be a substantial violation of private property rights, which could be actionable against the town,” he wrote.

Ottinger said he was still researching Fowler’s request that Belleair file a demand that hotel owners perform repairs or routine maintenance on the hotel to avoid what essentially amounts to “demolition by neglect” under Belleair’s ordinance. …

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Lauralee Westine, sheriff's wife, may seek Pinellas Commission seat

The list of potential candidates thinking about running for Susan Latvala's county commission seat just keeps getting longer.

Today you can add the name Lauralee Westine to the mix.

Westine, 42, is a lawyer and the wife of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Though she’s never run for office before, the East Lake Republican said she’s followed local politics and issues for years. When she heard earlier this week that Latvala was planning to retire, she immediately began to contemplate a run.

"It was a put up or shut up moment," she said. "I thought: If you really care about the community, this is how you handle it."

There is the matter of her marriage, which could be no small issue in a campaign. If elected to the seven-member board, Westine would be in a position to vote on and approve Gualtieri’s annual budget, which in 2014, accounted for nearly a quarter of Pinellas’ overall budget.

On the other hand, as Westine noted, the sheriff office’s is an independent entity from the county and the sheriff is an elected constitutional officer.

"Do I think there’s a perceived conflict there? Yes," she said. "Do I think it can be effectively managed? Yes."

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Transit advocates to launch "Greenlight YES" campaign next week

Pinellas transit advocates have been wondering lately when the pro-referendum campaign will get going. In December, it was going to be January. And now that January is almost over, it’s going to be February.

With nine months to go before the question goes before voters, a date has officially be set. The campaign to convince voters to support a referendum that would increase the county's sales tax to pay for expanded bus service and light rail is scheduled to launch on Feb. 7.

Organized by Ronnie Duncan, chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, or TBARTA, the campaign is going by the name "Greenlight YES." That’s a slight derivation from the name of the publicly funded education campaign, which was branded "Greenlight Pinellas," and is no surprise, since both campaigns are employing the same public relations firm – Tucker Hall – and the ballot language refers to the proposal as the Greenlight Pinellas plan. …

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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will get update on recycling program

In keeping with a campaign pledge to increase recycling in St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman will get an update in two weeks on various way to enact a citywide service.

Kriseman pledged to implement a citywide service during the mayoral campaign as then-Mayor Bill Foster favored a subscription-based service. After staffers provide details to Kriseman, a plan could get pitched to the City Council.

"That is still a priority," Kriseman said during a news conference at North Shore Pool. "I'm looking forward to the presentation."

Kriseman made the declaration while promoting a geothermal project to replace 10 heat pumps needed to heat the pool. The project combines renewal energies like solar and ground water and will save $20,000 a year in energy costs to heat the pool.


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St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman to unveil new green initiatives

Mayor Rick Kriseman is unveiling a new office Thursday to help St. Petersburg in its quest to becoming a "Green City."

Kriseman plans to unveil what his team calls the "creation of the first Office of Sustainability and Green Initiatives." It is described as another one of the many city projects to advance sustainability. The plan will be announced Thursday at 1 p.m. at the North Shore Pool.

"The project involves a unique mix of renewable energies including solar and ground water, combined with innovative technologies to save water, energy and operational dollars," according to a statement from Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman.

Michael Connors, the current public works administrator, will lead the effort and carry the additional title of director of sustainability and green initiatives. He is a city administrator who long opposed mandatory curbside recycling.


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Even after nay vote, developer still has eye on Belleview Biltmore Hotel

BELLEAIR -- St. Petersburg developer Mike Cheezem says he's not ready to walk away from his contract to buy the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

Belleair town commissioners last week voted 3-2 to postpone by six months a decision on a new zoning category that would have paved the way for demolition of the former hotel and redevelopment of the site. Cheezem wants to build condos or townhomes.

Though most of the 200 audience members who packed City Hall last week appeared to be pushing for the deteriorating structure's renovation, Cheezem said a lot of town residents actually appear to support a new direction for the Biltmore property.

He said the Biltmore just doesn't have the traffic or nearby amenities to sustain it as a hotel.

Click here to read more on Cheezem's thoughts, a preservationist group's push to save the hotel from demolition and the status of two potential lawsuits surrounding the proposed redevelopment.


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Top St. Petersburg official attending State of the Union speech

One of Mayor Rick Kriseman's top aides will have an up-close view for President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech.

Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, the city's director of urban affairs, was invited to Washington, D.C. by her former boss, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. Gaskin-Capehart is in charge of economic development in St. Petersburg's poorest areas.

Taxpayers did not pay for her flight north, said Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman. She also had meetings with housing and education officials to talk about issues facing St. Petersburg, Kirby added. 

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Poll commissioned by rail opponent shows Greenlight Pinellas on "shaky ground"

"Do you support raising sales taxes to build a commuter train from St. Petersburg to Clearwater?"

That's the first question in a poll paid for by former St. Petersburg City Council candidate David McKalip, and the results have him pleased. Of the more-then 1,000 Pinellas residents surveyed by St. Pete Polls last week, 45 percent initially said they would not support the tax increase, 39 percent said they would, and 16 percent were unsure.

Later, after being told that Pinellas would have the highest sales tax in the state, 61 percent of the poll’s participants said no, they wouldn’t vote for it. A majority also said they wouldn’t ride a train from St. Petersburg to Clearwater on "a regular basis."

A vocal opponent of the Greenlight Pinellas proposal to raise the county’s sales tax to pay an expansion of mass transit, McKalip wrote on his website that the poll results show "the Greenlight Pinellas campaign is on shaky ground." The results could become a source of ammunition for No Tax for Tracks, the main group that has formed to oppose the referendum, and which held its campaign kickoff last week.  …

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Bob Buckhorn's health care access initiative gets a shout-out from President Obama

President Barack Obama on Thursday praised Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for opening the city's nine busiest recreation centers to residents seeking help siging up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

"In Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn has gone in his words, 'all in,' in helping his constituents get covered with quality affordable health insurance," Obama said. The president's remarks came during a White House meeting with mayors in Washington for the 82nd U.S. Conference of Mayors' winter meeting, at which Buckhorn spoke about the value of using social media at City Hall.

Obama also singled out mayors Greg Stanton of Phoenix and Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City for work helping homeless veterans; Julian Castro of San Antonio for child education initiatives; Ashley Swearengin of Fresno for downtown investment in rail; and Michael Nutter of Philadelphia for summer job creation. Click here for video of Obama's remarks. He mentions Buckhorn at about 4:24 into the video.

Tampa officials say navigators will be available from 4 to 7 p.m. on the following schedule through the Obamacare enrollment deadline of March 31:

•  Springhill Center, 1000 E Eskimo Ave. on Mondays. …

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As Las Vegas bids for 2016 Republican National Convention, a subtext is, we're not Tampa

A bus loaded with delegates and other RNC attendees prepares to leave after the end of day one of the 2012 Republican National Convention. The New York Times Thursday quotes one GOP official saying that the many hotels of Las Vegas have their appeal, especially after the three-hour round trips that he and other delegates endured in what the newspaper describes as "comparatively hotel-starved Tampa."

Luis Santana | TIMES (2012)

A bus loaded with delegates and other RNC attendees prepares to leave after the end of day one of the 2012 Republican National Convention. The New York Times Thursday quotes one GOP official saying that the many hotels of Las Vegas have their appeal, especially after the three-hour round trips that he and other delegates endured in what the newspaper describes as "comparatively hotel-starved Tampa."

In a report Thursday on Las Vegas's efforts to land the 2016 Republican National Convention, the New York Times notes in a couple of spots that Vegas organizers are drawing distinctions between their town and Tampa:

There's this:

“That is one thing Las Vegas can guarantee: There will be no hurricanes,” said Brian K. Krolicki, the Republican lieutenant governor of Nevada, invoking the memory of when Hurricane Isaac forced a schedule change during the Republican convention in 2012, held in Tampa, Fla.

And this:

One appeal of Las Vegas, with its 150,000 hotel rooms within one square mile, is its contrast with the comparatively hotel-starved Tampa, where delegates complained of how long it took to get from their rooms to the convention center.

“Our delegation experienced three-hour round trips to the convention site in Tampa, so potentially walking to every event is exciting,” said Matt Moore, the South Carolina Republican chairman.

The Times also notes that Las Vegas is getting a big boost from casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who wrote the single biggest check ($5 million) received by the Tampa Bay Host Committee, which raised $55.3 million for the Tampa convention.

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With more than two years to spare, Bob Henriquez files to run for re-election

Nothing like an early start: Hillsborough Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez on Thursday became the first Hillsborough candidate to file papers to run — in 2016.

A former Democratic state representative and Tampa Catholic High School football coach, Henriquez, 49, was elected in 2012, defeating state senator Ronda Storms. She, in turn, had dispatched longtime Property Appraiser Rob Turner in a GOP primary overshadowed by his admission that he had sent multiple pornographic emails to his human resources director, whom he had once dated.

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Belleview Biltmore's future in limbo after commission vote

BELLEAIR -- Uncertainty about the Belleview Biltmore hotel's future only grew Wednesday, a day after Belleair commissioners voted to delay for six months a rezoning decision that could have resulted in demolition of the historic landmark and redevelopment of the land.

Hotel admirers have sought a preservationist to buy and restore the 400-room hotel, built in 1895 and closed in 2009.

Since that hasn't happened, the town staff proposed a new zoning category that would let something other than a hotel or single-family homes be built where the Biltmore stands.

But in a 3-2 vote Tuesday, commissioners decided to wait, telling staffers to tweak the proposed ordinance. One commissioner also called for a lawsuit to block the hotel's Miami owners from trying to raze the structure, saying it would violate Belleair's historic preservation code.

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Former St. Pete and Tampa mayors serve up a history lesson at Tiger Bay luncheon

ST. PETERSBURG — Pop quiz:

  • How did this city become known for its green benches?
  • Who was Tampa’s first Latin mayor?
  • When did the population in Tampa finally start to reach more than 5,000?
  • Who was the St. Petersburg official who appointed himself “bathing suit inspector”?

A packed audience at the January meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club got the answers to those questions, and a few more, on Wednesday when former mayors from each side of Tampa Bay dished about their cities histories.

Introduced as “the tallest mayors” of their cities, Rick Baker and Pam Iorio stood side by side in the St. Petersburg Yacht Club ballroom and talked about the past rivalries between the region’s two biggest cities, and how that shaped their futures.

The vibe at the event was less “frienemy” and more “family” — with a good bit of teasing thrown in.

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PolitiFact Florida: Bob Buckhorn's new housing initiative moves the needle on the Buck-O-Meter

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn stands in the doorway of a vacant, uninhabitable house on N 16th Street in Sulphur Springs before its demolition last year. This week, the city launched a $1.4 million initiative to build new homes on vacant lots created by several dozen city demolitions. And PolitiFact Florida's Buck-O-Meter took note.


Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn stands in the doorway of a vacant, uninhabitable house on N 16th Street in Sulphur Springs before its demolition last year. This week, the city launched a $1.4 million initiative to build new homes on vacant lots created by several dozen city demolitions. And PolitiFact Florida's Buck-O-Meter took note.

One of Bob Buckhorn's boldest promises as a candidate for mayor was to create an affordable housing program modeled on the Mayor's Challenge Fund, the nationally acclaimed initiative that Buckhorn saw up-close in the late 1980s and early '90s as a special assistant to then-Mayor Sandy Freedman.

Buckhorn's promise was, as usual, detailed and specific: Helping first-time home buyers find affordable housing and rehabilitating existing homes would be a "priority" for his administration. He would team up with lenders to help those buyers with "down payment assistance, reduction in origination fees, reduced interest rates, streamlined loan applications and assistance in preparing and packaging the loans." And he would get to work on the promise during his first year in office.

But by early 2013, the midpoint of his four-year term, even Buckhorn acknowledged that the city's housing efforts had not gotten his undivided attention and were not comprehensive, not organized and fractured. …

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Mayor Rick Kriseman will watch Obama speech with Sarasota Democrats

When the nation tunes in next week to watch President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is heading to Sarasota County.

Kriseman will watch the address with members of the Democratic Club of Sarasota

"Rick's victory in the recent election is a big win not just for St. Petersburg but for all Democrats in the state of Florida," according to a statement on the club's website. "A past speaker at club luncheons, Rick is a favorite with our members."

Sarasota Democrats ran phone banks to help track down absentee voters for Kriseman in November, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reports. The club will gather at 8 p.m. in the Bayfront Community Center at 803 N. Tamiami Trail. Cost to attend is $20. 

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