North Pinellas news briefs for Dec. 15

Detective John Walser, left, Cpl. Steve Squillante and Detective John Yuen raid the Hot Wheels section at Target on Friday, choosing gifts for kids.
Detective John Walser, left, Cpl. Steve Squillante and Detective John Yuen raid the Hot Wheels section at Target on Friday, choosing gifts for kids.
Published Dec. 13, 2013


Zoning proposal would affect Biltmore owners

The town's planning and zoning board will consider a modified proposal this week for a new zoning district that would let the Belleview Biltmore's owners raze the historic hotel and replace it with condos and townhomes.

The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday at Belleair Town Hall, 901 Ponce De Leon Blvd., and is open to the public.

Town commissioners are expected to consider the zoning changes and the planning board's recommendation in January.


Mayor reaches out to church hoping for 'new era'

Mayor George Cretekos wrote a short note to Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige before Thanksgiving, congratulating him on the church's "successful opening" of the Flag Building on Nov. 17.

For three months prior to the celebration, city officials had butted heads with church leaders over permits, illegally cutting trees and other violations. The church paid fines and was cited by the city's Code Enforcement Board for a massive tent wrap that the city deemed a sign.

Cretekos said he wanted a fresh start.

"I hope that we will now enter a new era of cooperation and understanding between the church and the city," Cretekos wrote on Nov. 21.

Miscavige was traveling and didn't respond personally, but church spokeswoman Pat Harney called Cretekos last week.

Harney called to "advise me that they had received it and they would touch base with me later," Cretekos said.

On Thursday, the same night of Harney's call to Cretekos, Mark Bunker, a Clearwater resident and longtime church critic, told the City Council that it shouldn't seek to thaw relations with the church.

He noted Cretekos' stated desire to reset relations and said that the city should instead talk with Mike Rinder or Marty Rathbun, former Scientologist leaders who are now critics of the church.

"I know it's a lot easier to turn a blind eye to Scientology, but it's not the right thing to do," Bunker said during the resident comment section of the meeting. The council didn't respond to Bunker's three-minute speech.

Tarpon Springs

Leepa-Rattner earns national accreditation

The Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at St. Petersburg College has achieved accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition for a museum.

"Accreditation assures supporters that their museum is among the finest in the nation," said Ford W. Bell, president of the AAM. "As a result, citizens can take considerable pride in their home-grown institution for its commitment to excellence and for the value it brings to the community."

The Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art is among the newest museums in the Tampa Bay region. It opened on the Tarpon Springs campus in 2002.

The museum was established after a large collection of 20th century artwork from the estate of Abraham Rattner was donated to the college in 1996 by Rattner's stepson, artist Allen Leepa.

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The museum began its work toward accreditation in 2004. Director Ann Larsen said the accreditation will allow the Leepa-Rattner Museum to attract better national exhibitions, increase financial support and raise the museum's national profile.

Only about 1,000 of the country's more than 17,500 museums have achieved AAM accreditation. "It puts us into the highest echelon of museums in the country," she said.

Other Tampa Bay area museums with the accreditation include the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Henry B. Plant Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, the Museum of Science and Industry, Salvador Dalí Museum, Tampa Museum of Art and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum. The museum is open daily except Mondays and major holidays. For more information, visit or call (727) 712-5225.


Pinellas employees donate bikes for kids

Pinellas County employees rolled 43 new bicycles along the halls and down the stairs of the County Courthouse in Clearwater on Friday morning. The bikes were loaded onto Mosquito Control trucks and taken to the Pinellas County Health and Community Services offices in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

They will go to preapproved families that are clients of the county's Health and Community Services department so that their children will have gleaming new bicycles this holiday season.

Now in its 27th year, the bicycle drive is a team project. County employees from 16 departments donated money throughout the year to go toward the purchase of the bicycles and helmets.

County employees also donated items to fulfill wish lists offered to eligible clients of Pinellas County Health and Community Services. The wish lists included personal products, household goods and linens.

For more information on Pinellas County services and programs, visit or create a shortcut to on any smartphone. Pinellas County government is also on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

PSTA ridership sees increase over last year

Pinellas County's transit agency saw strong gains in weekday ridership last month compared to November 2012.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority provided an average of 46,765 rides every weekday in November 2013, which is a 2.3 percent increase over the same month last year.

The total ridership was PSTA's second highest ever for the month of November. More than 1.14 million rides were provided, continuing strong ridership trends posted by the agency over the past several years.

Leaders say that without costly onboard surveys it's hard to know exactly why more people are riding. However, they say that lower unemployment rates and the improving economy are likely contributing factors.

Cops shop for kids' gifts

Clearwater police officers, detectives and other staff went shopping at Target in Clearwater Mall Friday morning with $4,200 from Nedra and O'Neal Larkin to buy presents for about 500 kids. The gifts will be handed out Dec. 22. The department is accepting gifts for the cause at the main station until Dec. 20. Cops for the Cause, the Fraternal Order of Police and Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Inc., and Target provided donations.