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Belleair fines Biltmore resort $250 a day, says roof still dilapidated

The hotel roof, seen here in May, is still in the same “dilapidated and deteriorated” condition as it was before, the city says.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

The hotel roof, seen here in May, is still in the same “dilapidated and deteriorated” condition as it was before, the city says.

BELLEAIR — The town is slapping the owner of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa with daily fines until it fixes the resort's dilapidated roof.

The roof has been in disrepair since the summer storms of 2004, when the hotel had another owner.

The city's code board voted 5-2 on Monday to institute the fine.

"We don't agree and we will hopefully work it out through other avenues," said Joe Penner, a managing director for the owner.

The fines, $250 a day, are another roadblock for the $100 million renovation project, which has been delayed by lawsuits, said George Rahdert, a lawyer representing owner Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, formerly known as Legg Mason Real Estate Investors.

With an appeal outstanding, it's difficult to obtain financing, and the fine is another hindrance, said Rahdert, of Rahdert, Steele, Bole & Reynolds in St. Petersburg. "You can't get financing today with any blemishes on the application," Rahdert said.

In June 2008, three Belleair residents sued the town and the owner of the hotel because they disagreed with some of the owner's plans. In May, the appellate division of the 6th Judicial Circuit Court in Pinellas ruled against the residents.

Around that time, Sand Key residents appealed Clearwater's approval of a plan to replace the resort's Cabana Club restaurant on Sand Key with a six-floor beachfront hotel.

The specific code issues involving the roof trace back to February 2007, more than a year before Latitude Management bought the property for $30.3 million.

In November 2007, the town's code board gave the owner two years, or until last Sunday, to bring the roof into compliance.

Fred Hawes, the town's building official, said he examined the structure from the ground Monday and told the board that the hotel, which closed in June, was basically in the same "dilapidated and deteriorated" condition it was in before.

Project architect Richard Heisenbottle told the board that bringing the roof up to code was a "Herculean task." He and owner representative Ron Harn said it would cost almost $6 million.

Meanwhile, hotel representatives said, the owners have repaired portions of the roof and implemented techniques to avoid leaks.

Heisenbottle said it was illogical to pour millions of dollars and months of work into bringing the roof up to code, when the 112-year-old hotel really needs to be renovated from square one.

"This building has to be restored correctly. It has to be restored from the ground up," Heisenbottle said.

After the meeting, Rahdert said he was specifically concerned about a comment made by board member Don Newman.

Newman mentioned "quid pro quo" and suggested rescinding the fine if the owner would consider certain things that would help nearby neighbors and the Belleair Country Club. They included installing lighting along the roadway that leads to the hotel as well as nearby condos, pushing back intrusive fencing and unblocking parking, formerly used by the country club.

Rahdert called the comment "extortion."

Newman, contacted Tuesday, laughed at the extortion idea and said his concerns were mostly for neighbors who live in the area.

Belleair fines Biltmore resort $250 a day, says roof still dilapidated 11/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 7:27pm]
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