BELLEAIR – Belleair residents who live in the Residential Planned Development have voted to support the proposed zoning change for the Belleview Biltmore Hotel property.
The RPD residents all live in condos around the property and they have been complaining for years about the unsightliness of the hotel, which has been closed since 2009.
The new zoning, known as RM-10, would restrict the number of units of condos or townhouses to be built on the property to 10 per acre but would allow the height restriction in some cases to be raised from 32 feet to 80 feet.
Resident Rae Claire Johnson, long a proponent of saving the hotel, brought up the matter at the Belleair Commission meeting on Jan. 7.
“I see where the RPD residents have voted to support the zoning change,” she said. “The hotel issue is one which should be brought to all the people of Belleair, not just those in the RPD.”
Johnson said the future financial well-being of the town is dependent on the Belleview Biltmore operating as a hotel in the future.
“Past commissions in this town have made some bad financial decisions in the last 30 years,” she said. “We have had new taxes, new water rates and an increase in our millage rate in recent times. In order for this town to finance itself every effort should be made to make sure the hotel becomes a viable commercial property. It is the only one we have.”
Johnson urged the commissioners to enforce the town’s preservation rules regarding the hotel because she said the current owners just have not kept the property in good condition.
Resident Laurie Adams wanted to know who instigated the new zoning proposals.
“Where did it come from and who initiated it?” she asked. “I understand there are some offers out there to buy the hotel. Why not try to broker a deal between the current owners and the proposed buyers?”
Vice Mayor Stephen Fowler, acting as mayor in the absence of Mayor Gary Katica, explained that the hotel owners told the commission that if they were to demolish the hotel and build townhouses under the current zoning for the property, RM-15 with the set 32-foot height restriction, it would be a disservice to the town and to the RPD.
“So we took what they said and developed this new zoning proposal and we massaged it and came up with what we have on the table now,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Shelly said it was he who first suggested a new zoning ordinance for the property.
“I brought it up; we don’t want to get stuck with RM-15,” he said.
Town Manager Micah Maxwell explained that the new zoning provides the owners with another option at the same time protecting the town from what the RM-15 would have permitted.
Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto said the new zoning should get things moving on the property.
“The sooner the town acts the better for all involved to either restore it or move forward.”
The RPD approval of the RM-10 suggests a change in the size of each unit from 1,200 square feet to 1,500. They agree with the total of 160 units on the property.