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A better solution: Preserve the Biltmore
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This letter is intended to convey some observations regarding recent events in the process of determining the fate of the property now occupied by the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

The controversial RM10 proposal that was introduced for consideration by the Town Commission a few weeks ago was offered originally to protect the Town from being overbuilt. It would limit residential construction to 10 units per acre. However, potential developers of the hotel property seized upon the height provision in RM10 as the necessary authority to build 80 feet high condominium buildings – 40 feet above the tree canopy – to provide a view of the water and justify the high end prices required to make the project profitable.

So, in the end, the choice for the town is relatively simple: a restored hotel or twin tower, to accommodate about 130 condominiums) reaching at least 40 feet above the tree line, shattering forever the park-like atmosphere of the RPD.

The addition of another 160 housing units – the developer plans to build about 130 condominiums and 32 townhouses – can only further depress property values in Belleair, certainly in the RPD, and probably in the rest of the town through a domino effect. As the Town’s population ages, residents will look for opportunities to downsize in the new development, vacating single-family homes, and creating another downward pressure on residential property prices. Adding more residential units to an already depressed market can only have a negative impact on real property values.

With a fully restored hotel, no one gets hurt, and the park-like atmosphere of the RPD would remain intact.

Regarding the current condition of the hotel, none of us should be considered blameless. As residents and taxpayers, we should have been more insistent that the town aggressively enforce the specific requirement of the town’s Comprehensive Plan “… to preserve the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.” As our elected representatives, commission members should have been more mindful of that obligation. In any event, our combined neglect and the present condition of the hotel should not be used as an excuse to avoid the town’s duty to preserve the hotel. That obligation is undiminished and ongoing.

In the last month, I have knocked on the doors or rung the doorbells of close to 300 Belleair residences and spoken with more than 100 residents.

Only two openly opposed the restoration of the hotel. Some made no definitive comment; but a clear majority expressed their support for restoring the Biltmore. One of those residents spoke with a particular passion as she described her frustration, exasperation, impatience and anger about the loss of income to the town since the Hotel closed, the new fees that have resulted and her general dissatisfaction with the lack of definitive action regarding the future of the property. However, her last comment was a familiar one: “I hope they find a way to save it.”

I have not heard a single resident of Belleair express a preference for two high-rise condominium towers stretching well above the tree line on the highest point in the town over a restored, historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

Jim Betts
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