The Belleview Biltmore hotel and its abandoned pool may soon be no more. Belleair Commissioners agreed to a new zoning designation that will pave the way for its demolition.
BELLEAIR – Commissioners have given the green light to the establishment of a new zoning designation that will pave the way for developer Michael Cheezem to move ahead with his plans to purchase and demolish the Belleview Biltmore hotel.
The new zoning designation is known as planned mixed use and allows for a hotel/inn as well as condominiums to be built on the property once the hotel is gone.
While the commissioners voted unanimously at their meeting June 17 to approve the new designation, residents in attendance were hardly unanimous in their support.
Resident Jim Betts made a last minute plea to save the hotel.
“Once the hotel is gone, it is gone,” he said. “It is a magnificent structure and the center of cultural activity in this town. Soon it will be gone and with it the taxes that will be lost once the hotel is gone. I had a bad dream recently. I dreamed I was a town Commissioner and I had to ask myself what the hell are we doing?”
Karman Hayes said she spoke with a note of personal sadness.
“I’m sad because I’m convinced you just don’t hear me,” she told the commissioners. “There are people moving out of the RPD, not because of the sight of the hotel, but of what is planned to go there. It will change the ambience there.”
Lavonne Johnson pleaded with the commissioners to do what she thought was the right thing.
“Save the hotel,” she said. “You have a chance to save the hotel. This is our golden egg, don’t destroy it.”
Earlier RPD Homeowners president Jim White reiterated his group’s support of the planned mixed use and the plans by Cheezem.
“We have long suffered the blight of that hotel,” he said. “We’ve heard all the promises of plans to save the hotel. We’re tired of all the talk of promises; it is time to move forward. We’ve seen the developer’s plans and voted unanimously to support him.”
Cheezem recently said he would close on the property once all the permits for what he plans are in place. His plans coordinate perfectly with the terms of the new zoning designation.
Town Manager Micah Maxwell said at the time that Cheezem could not apply for any permits because the mixed use zoning didn’t exist. Now it does and Cheezem can move forward. He said he hoped the deal would close sometime in October or November.
Commissioner Stephen Fowler asked the city manager if anything they did at the meeting could stand in the way of someone else buying and preserving the hotel. He was assured it did not.
Potentially standing in the way of the deal is the lawsuit filed in federal court by preservationist Rae Claire Johnson and two RPD residents. Town Attorney David Ottinger told the commissioners that the town has been formally served with notice of the suit and he plans to file a motion to dismiss it next week.
“I’ve done the research and there is no basis for a federal lawsuit in this case,” he said. “The federal court would only have jurisdiction if the federal government or a federal agency were involved in the case or if federal money was being used.”
Ottinger also said the town might file to recover the legal fees involved in fighting the suit if the court determines that the lawsuit was frivolous or meant to delay any action.
Commissioners agreed to cancel the July 1 commission meeting. Maxwell told them that there was nothing on the agenda and it might be a good time for the commissioners to take a little time off. They agreed.