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Belleair officials will rehear Biltmore zoning proposal

BELLEAIR — Town commissioners may not want to wait six months after all to determine what the zoning should be on the Belleview Biltmore hotel property.

At a meeting last week, commissioners decided they'll talk Feb. 18 about whether to reverse last month's 3-2 vote to delay six months before voting on rezoning the hotel property so a developer could tear down the historic structure and build housing there.

At the same meeting, they also will hear about the mixed-use zoning options that would allow St. Petersburg developer Mike Cheezem, who has a contract to buy the property, to preserve a portion of the 117-year-old hotel if he builds condos and townhomes there.

At last Tuesday's commission meeting, nearly everyone in the audience of about 100 stood up when asked if they support a proposed new zoning category, RM-10, which would allow 10 residential units per acre on the hotel site.

"Do your job," resident John Hail told commissioners. "Move forward. Your failure is costing us stakeholders, the citizens of Belleair, plenty."

Mayor Gary Katica agreed, saying commissioners last month "kicked the can and we didn't do a damn thing and it's costing the citizens of Belleair for another six months . . ."

Commissioner Stephen Fowler, who last month made the motion for the six-month delay, clarified that he made the motion "so that perhaps (Cheezem) can come forward with a better plan" that town officials could tweak if needed to appeal to both residents and hotel preservationists.

"I didn't want to handcuff them with an RM-10, a potential zoning district that they would not be able to use," Fowler said. "Have them come back to us. They're big boys, they know what to do."

But Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto challenged Fowler's explanation, saying, "You cut (Cheezem) off at the knees" and tied commissioners' hands for half a year.

Piccarreto said that hours before Tuesday's meeting, Cheezem mentioned the possibility of building a mixed-use project that could involve saving part of the hotel. But, he said, Cheezem has "concerns" given last month's commission vote to stall consideration of the rezoning he needs to build on the property.

At one point in the meeting, resident Randy Ware claimed that Fowler admitted to him that the rezoning delay was just a tactic to stave off hotel demolition. And Katica said Fowler now appeared to be "tiptoeing through the tulips trying to backtrack."

Fowler denied the accusations and apologized if Cheezem misunderstood his intentions.

Ultimately, commissioners agreed Tuesday that there was no need to wait six months to consider options regarding the deteriorating hotel's future.

"I'm on board with definitely discussing (the options) and coming to a vote," Piccarreto said. "Let's be leaders like we were elected to be."

In order for the commission to reconsider the RM-10 zoning, one of the commissioners who voted for the delay will have to make a motion to reconsider it, and that motion will have to pass. If that happens, the zoning change would again come up for public hearings and commission votes, likely in March.

The property would have to be rezoned for mixed-use if Cheezem were to preserve part of the hotel and also build homes on the same site.

If commissioners decide Feb. 18 to also explore allowing mixed use on the hotel property, the town staff will draft an ordinance providing more detail and send it for votes to the planning and zoning board and commission, said Town Manager Micah Maxwell.

Even if the RM-10 and mixed-use options pass, officials said, a preservationist would still be able to approach the hotel's current owners, Raphael and Daniel Ades of Miami, about buying and restoring it.

Also at last month's meeting, Fowler had called for an injunction to block the Ades brothers from selling to a developer who won't restore the hotel and to force the owners to perform repairs or routine maintenance to avoid what amounts to "demolition by neglect" under town law.

But in a discussion Tuesday about commissioners' legal options, Maxwell and Town Attorney David Ottinger recommended against seeking the injunction.

Attempting to block the Biltmore's sale, Ottinger said, would violate the owners' property rights. He also said pursuing repairs would saddle Belleair with the "significant cost" of hiring an architect to identify the specific fixes needed.

The Ades' attorney, Scott McLaren, said a previous Biltmore owner is responsible for hotel damages and he warned commissioners that legal action by the town could result in a costly countersuit.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com.

This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: Resident Randy Ware claimed that Belleair Town Commissioner Stephen Fowler told him that a Jan. 21 motion Fowler made to delay rezoning of the Belleview Biltmore was a tactic to stave off the hotel's demolition. The claim was attributed to another person in a story Sunday.

Belleair officials will rehear Biltmore zoning proposal 02/07/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 4:14pm]
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