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Neighbors bemoan condition of Belleview Biltmore

BELLEAIR — Neighbors of the Belleview Biltmore are fed up with the owner of the 114-year-old hotel.

They say the condition of the Biltmore and other factors put the safety and the image of the community at risk.

Meanwhile, owner Raphael Ades says his efforts to market the property, which were hampered by development regulations, are now further complicated by differing opinions within the town. And he's looking for a bit of support.

"The ones who are losing are the neighbors and the city," said Ades, who bought the hotel and its assets with other Miami investors in December. "It's an ugly structure. It's taking value from the neighbors."

The roof has been in disrepair since the storms of 2004, when the hotel had a different owner. And a town consultant has said that water seeping through the roof and other openings has led to extensive damage to the historic wood structure.

Those who live in the area around the hotel just want action. They're tired of staring at the hotel's dilapidated roof and worry that neglect of the structure actually puts them in danger.

"Either they need to fix it or they need to demolish it," said Manny Mersis, a resident who lives in a nearby condominium.

A neighbor in another nearby complex, John Prevas, said he and other neighbors are specifically concerned about the adequacy of security and fire protection at the Biltmore.

"We bought here because we liked the idea of having activity across the street," said Prevas, who supported early preservation efforts. "Now it's become an eyesore and a danger and there's no prospect that somebody's going to come in and make it a hotel."

Prevas and other neighbors plan to submit a letter to the town demanding proof that the hotel's fire protection is adequate.

Largo fire marshal Tim Wedin, whose department oversees fire protection for Belleair, said residents can relax.

"Everything is being done that is supposed to be done," Wedin said.

As far as security issues go, Ades said a security guard monitors the hotel property from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and that after that the property is monitored with cameras and an alarm with motion detectors.

Members of the group called the Belleview Biltmore Homes Association say they're also frustrated that the investors who own the hotel are not paying their share of community dues totaling about $50,000. The association, which consists of residents of nearby condominiums and about 35 single-family homes, said the owner's refusal has forced them to cut one of the community's daily roving security shifts.

Most past owners have paid the dues, but Latitude Management Real Estate Investors, which owned the hotel before the Miami group, stopped paying. Now, Ades is on the hook for those debts and his own, they say.

According to Ades and a couple of Homes Association members, there is no written requirement to pay the dues.

"They tried to bill me for what the previous owner didn't pay," Ades said. "But it's voluntary."

But Diane Ongioni, secretary-treasurer of the association, said there was a precedent set by previous owners.

"They are liable as far as I am concerned," she said.

On Wednesday, Tom duPont, president of the adjacent Belleair Country Club, sent a letter to town leaders asking them to help persuade the owners to keep up the hotel property. He cited concerns about security and the poor appearance of the property.

He said the country club does its part to support the community and the Belleview Biltmore Homes Association.

"Yet, the hotel continues to degrade our town's image, endanger its citizens, skip out on its financial obligation and ask for favors," duPont wrote.

He also questioned the adequacy of security and the hotel's poor condition and specifically mentioned the coyote puppies found near the hotel last week.

"Do you really want the world to know that there is an empty boarded up building that has animals living in it … in the middle of Belleair?" duPont asked town leaders.

Meanwhile, Ades said he's having a challenge marketing the property.

There's been some interest, but no one has followed up that interest with cash, he said.

Ades and his partners, who also own the hotel's golf course on Indian Rocks Road and its beachfront Cabana Club on Sand Key, now plan to hire a consultant, hoping to create a few options for redeveloping the site that are appealing to both residents and developers.

Meanwhile, Senior Care Group, which proposed turning the hotel into a multiuse senior facility, hasn't given up despite some major stumbling blocks.

The Belleview Biltmore property is zoned just for a hotel. And the town's zoning doesn't allow for senior health care facilities anywhere.

On Tuesday, the Tampa company, which has recently made news for its involvement in the abrupt closing of a St. Petersburg assisted living facility, plans to return to Belleair Town Hall.

The company wants town leaders to consider changing the town's development code to include health care and wellness facilities in one of its zoning categories. No formal vote will be taken at the work session, but commissioners will discuss whether they want the town to explore the possibility, said Town Manager Micah Maxwell.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com.

. Fast facts

If you go

Belleair's Town Commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Belleair Town Hall, 901 Ponce de Leon Blvd. Senior Care Group's request to alter the development code is scheduled for a work session after a special meeting.

Neighbors bemoan condition of Belleview Biltmore 04/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 29, 2011 8:55pm]
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