Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New zoning option for Belleview Biltmore sparked emotional debate

The Belleair Town Commission voted 4-1 to create a new zoning district a developer could apply for if he or she wanted to raze the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (2011)

The Belleair Town Commission voted 4-1 to create a new zoning district a developer could apply for if he or she wanted to raze the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

BELLEAIR — Votes on two new zoning measures that could smooth the path for demolition of all or part of the former Belleview Biltmore hotel sparked passionate speeches last week by several town commissioners and a member of a preservationist group attempting to buy and save the historic structure.

The Belleair Town Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday night to create a new zoning district a developer could apply for if he or she wanted to raze the Biltmore and build condos or townhomes in its place.

Current zoning on the Biltmore site allows only for a hotel or single-family homes.

The new zoning option, RM-10, offers more flexibility and height than the town's two existing multifamily residential zoning designations. It allows up to 10 units per acre — a density between the other two zoning categories — and the potential for building heights up to 80 feet if the developer incorporates certain incentives like enclosed parking.

"This is just a tool in the toolbox for us to use at some future time," Commissioner Kevin Piccaretto said. "It is not a zoning change tonight."

But like countless meetings before, the decision was steeped in controversy, with speaker after speaker standing before a packed Town Hall to speak for or against RM-10.

Commissioner Tom Shelly kicked off the meeting with a statement disclosing that in early April he had agreed to relay to JMC Communities CEO Mike Cheezem, the St. Petersburg developer who has a contract to buy the hotel, the "general terms" of a purchase offer by Belleview Biltmore Partners, a South Florida preservationist group that said it had been unsuccessful at reaching Cheezem. According to Shelly, Cheezem responded that he would think about the offer.

Shelly said he would refrain from further involvement to avoid any appearance of impropriety: "I can no longer communicate between them on the issue. It's a matter between the private parties involved."

At one point, Mayor Gary Katica interrupted speakers, picked up a portable microphone and stood in front of the dais. He described his conversation two weeks ago with BBP, which issued a news release saying the group had finally secured a funding commitment from a private equity group two years after embarking on its quest to buy the Biltmore. But in a meeting with Katica, the group wouldn't let the mayor read the purported funding document.

"I said 'What the hell is this? Another dog and pony show?' " said Katica, who referred the group directly to Cheezem.

BBP member Charles Kropke explained the group's inability to close on the Biltmore in October, saying the last 30-day extension the hotel's owners gave BBP wasn't enough time to raise the final $200,000 needed. Katica responded that the group had months to raise all the funds needed.

Piccaretto asked Kropke how the RM-10 option, which BBP opposes, would harm his group's push to buy and restore the hotel.

Kropke responded that the option "clears the way for the demolition of the hotel."

Ultimately, most commissioners voted to add the RM-10 option to city code.

Only Commissioner Stephen Fowler voted no, saying he preferred adopting a mixed-use zoning option — the next item on the meeting agenda — that would encourage preservation of at least a piece of the Biltmore for a boutique hotel, along with restaurants and other amenities, just as Cheezem has proposed.

"RM-10 doesn't allow for anything but housing," Fowler said. "Mixed use will give us far more opportunities."

Commissioners subsequently gave staff the okay to research the densities, incentives and other specifics that should be included in the mixed-use ordinance. The measure is expected to go before the Planning and Zoning Board for a recommendation on May 12, then to the Town Commission for public hearings and votes on May 20 and June 17.

In response to critics, town officials said neither the mixed-use nor RM-10 zoning options would preclude a preservationist from attempting to negotiate a purchase deal with the hotel's Miami owners.

The photo caption has been amended to reflect the following correction: Belleair commissioners gave town staff permission to draft language for a proposed ordinance that would allow mixed-use development on the Belleview Biltmore hotel property. A photo caption Sunday was incorrect on that point.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

New zoning option for Belleview Biltmore sparked emotional debate 04/18/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 11:09am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. James Wilder Jr. back at running back...in Canada

    Blogs

    Remember when former Plant High star and Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. announced he was switching to linebacker?

    That was short-lived, apparently.

  2. Unlicensed contractor accused of faking death triggers policy change at Pinellas construction licensing board

    Local Government

    The unlicensed contractor accused of faking his death to avoid angry homeowners has triggered an immediate change in policy at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. What you need to know for Tuesday, June 27

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Former St. Petersburg mayor and current mayoral candidate Rick Baker, left, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman square off tonight in a debate. [Times]
  4. Once 'angry' about Obamacare, Republican David Jolly came to see it as 'safety net'

    Blogs

    Former Congressman David Jolly, who ran against Obamacare in 2013, said in an interview Monday night that he now considers it a "safety net."

  5. Five children hospitalized after chlorine release at Tampa pool store

    Accidents

    Five children were sickened at a pool store north of Tampa on Monday after a cloud of chlorine was released, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.