Sally Spencer demonstrates the proximity of the Belleview Biltmore’s proposed new spa to her family’s backyard and home, as P&Z board members look on.
BELLEAIR – How tall, how wide and how close were some of the decisions the town’s seven-member Planning and Zoning Board had to grapple with for six hours Monday night before a capacity audience at Town Hall.
In the end, the news was good for those planning the future of the historic Belleview Biltmore.
Architects, lawyers, consultants and Legg Mason’s managing director Joseph Penner attended the P&Z meeting with a list of variances they said were critical to their plans to turn the aging hotel once again into a luxuriant Victorian destination worthy of the international traveler.
Included on their wish list is a height increase of 28 feet over existing code from 32 to 60 feet for a proposed East Wing; a 7-foot height increase for the proposed new spa, and a soaring turret rising to 40 feet crowning the new Poolside Café that chief architect Richard Heisenbottle called, “the classic Victorian element.”
Also requested was a reduction of the code-mandated size of a parking space from 9-by-20 feet to 9-by-18; a magic number that allows the hotel to add approximately 10 percent more parking in the same area; parking that some say is critical to the successful operation of the resort, which had already asked to reduce the overall number of parking spaces at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club from 274 to 244.
Project planners say the resort has more than sufficient parking capacity proposed at 658 spaces. If you follow their peak load calculations, for a wedding party over the weekend when everyone is winding down their nuptial celebrations, a total number of cars parked at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, 560. Beyond that throw in valet parking and the number of spaces increases to more than 1,000. Current code calls for a total of 2,075 spaces on the entire property.
“Critical in all this is our desire to create green open spaces for lawns and gardens, worthy of other great resorts such as the Breakers Palm Beach and Boca Raton Resort,” said Heisenbottle. After viewing the developer’s 20-minute slide presentation, several speakers rose to voice their individual concerns or support for the proposed variance requests.
Prominently, the homeowner’s association board, represented by Tom DuPont, gave its general support to the project, which DuPont described as, “No longer a restoration project but a development project.” The association, DuPont said, favored the spire on top of the Poolside Café, but split on the spa unless it was moved to the hotel side of the street and out of the residential district.
Referring to Heisenbottle’s comparisons to The Breakers Palm Beach and Boca Raton Resort DuPont drew a round of applause when he said, “The developers need to stop applying everywhere standards to the Belleview Biltmore and start applying Belleair standards.”
The homeowners called on the board to reject outright the East Wing, agreeing with Belleair Country Club members who said the new 60-foot structure was unnecessary for the success of the resort. They maintain that the East Wing would dominate the open skyline view from the golf course and take away from the enjoyment of the club by its members.
But perhaps the most compelling testimony of the evening was a silent, construction demonstration by 9-year-old Sally Spencer, who erected a miniature building block version of the proposed new spa, which would sit just 33 feet from the back corner of her family’s home, a 1930s vintage house purchased in 1992. As onlookers watched, the youngster placed a single block inches from the four-high stack of blocks towering over what represented her backyard.
Her father, Scott Spencer, described to the audience how he felt when he realized the planning documents had failed to show his home as it would sit in the shadow of the 45,000-square-foot, 40-foot high building, which enclosed the spa as well as the parking spaces and a pool deck.
“Our home was just a green space on their plan, no structure there at all. It’s almost like they wanted to mislead the public by exaggerating the open space.”
In the end, Legg Mason representatives Penner and Heisenbottle agreed to a compromise by offering to reduce the spa footprint by eliminating four parking spaces, which moves the proposed building 9-feet farther south of the Spencer home.
Asked later if he was satisfied with the outcome Spencer said, “It’s a work in progress, the P&Z sets the tone for the final decision by the commission. I need to sleep on it. This was a decision in the final hour, but I’m happy all the same that our case was heard and we’ll be there for the commission hearing.”
The board voted on seven variance requests, passing the requests for height increases, parking space size reductions, reducing the number of parking spaces and permitting off site use of the spa location but reducing its length by nine feet.
“We see this as a positive next step toward restoring the white queen of the gulf to her historic beauty,” said Joe Penner, managing director of Legg Mason Real Estate Investors, afterward.
In addition, the board altered the developers request to intrude green space into the rights of way on three sides of the golf club on Indian Rocks Road, Poinsettia and Gulfview.
The plan they wanted would use the town’s right of way to add plant/tree screening for the parking area, yet maintain adequate parking. At the urging of some residents the board denied the request along Poinsettia and removed a row of parking, thus allowing for the possible future addition of a stretch of sidewalk along that lane where none exists now.
The Planning and Zoning Board recommendations will now go to the Town Commission for final determination at its meeting Tuesday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m.