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Preservationist files federal lawsuit to block Biltmore sale

Plaintiffs in a 2014 suit filed in U.S. Middle District Court want a judge to stop the sale of the Belleview Biltmore, force repairs and bring code enforcement fines.

JIM DAMASKE | Times (2011) 

Plaintiffs in a 2014 suit filed in U.S. Middle District Court want a judge to stop the sale of the Belleview Biltmore, force repairs and bring code enforcement fines.

BELLEAIR — A preservation advocate fighting to save the former Belleview Biltmore hotel from demolition has filed a second lawsuit to block its sale — this time in federal court.

Rae Claire Johnson, president of Friends of the Belleview Biltmore, joined Wednesday with Belleair residents Doris E. Hanson and Mary Lou White on the most recent action filed in U.S. Middle District Court.

The suit accuses Belleair commissioners of nepotism and colluding in the hotel's sale by failing to enforce the town's historic preservation ordinance, code infraction process or comprehensive plan. The town's inaction, they say, has given the Biltmore's owners carte blanche to illegally withhold routine maintenance in hopes of making a case for demolition.

BB Hotel LLC, the South Florida firm that owns the hotel, is also named as a defendant.

Company owners Raphael and Daniel Ades have a contract to sell the Biltmore to St. Petersburg developer Michael Cheezem, who intends to raze the structure and build a replica inn, condos and townhomes in its place. Cheezem recently scrapped plans to preserve the lobby and restaurant, saying cost and worries about bringing the structure in line with current building codes made the idea unworkable.

The plaintiffs want a judge to stop the sale, force the hotel's owners to repair it and make the town levy code enforcement fines.

They want to be reimbursed for their court costs, and they are seeking restitution for lowered property values.

"There's no reason for the hotel to be in the condition it is," Johnson said. "They are coming in and destroying our heritage, but losing this hotel is not just about preserving our history. It's about preserving our tax base and remaining independent."

Town Manager Micah Maxwell declined to comment Thursday, saying the town attorney was still reviewing the suit.

Ed Armstrong, the Clearwater attorney for the Ades brothers, said his clients think the allegations are "completely without merit, and we intend to aggressively defend our position."

In March, Johnson filed a lawsuit in circuit court accusing the town of trying to circumvent proper hearing procedures and approving an illegal request to subdivide the property, harming any chance of preservation because there wouldn't be enough land left to meet Belleair's parking requirements. That suit is pending.

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

Preservationist files federal lawsuit to block Biltmore sale 05/22/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:53pm]
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