Belleair Bluffs seal

BELLEAIR BLUFFS – The City Commission agreed by consensus at its Aug. 13 workshop to code and zoning changes that would allow the construction of upscale town houses not currently permitted in the city. The changes will now be presented as an ordinance the commission will vote on at a future meeting.

The commission’s action is a victory for the developer, Belleair Asset Management, LLC, which has been acquiring aging duplexes and triplexes, mostly in the Indian Rocks Road, Jewel Road and Belmar Drive areas. Ric Feinberg of Belleair Asset Management told the commission in June that the properties acquired would be “substantially upgraded” and the townhomes “a significant improvement of the properties and a significant improvement for Belleair Bluffs.”

At the Aug. 13 meeting, the commission heard from Luis Serna of Calvin, Giordano & Associates, a professional planner hired by the city to, in their words, “assist the city with the development and adoption of appropriate code revisions to permit the development of town houses in select areas of the city.”

The recommendation made by Serna includes changes to the zoning districts, along with setback and lot width changes that would allow the building of two separate dwelling units on a property where today there is one. The current city code permits duplexes and triplexes, but not separate town houses.

Changes to the land use categories will allow town houses to be built in the Residential Urban (RU), Residential Medium (RM), Residential Office General (R/O/G) and Residential Office Retail (R/O/R) districts. They will not be allowed in Residential High (RH) or Commercial Districts where duplexes and triplexes are currently permitted.

Serna said the goal of the zoning district recommendation is to allow town houses in those districts where duplexes and triplexes are now allowed and prohibit them in districts where they were not permitted before. The lot shapes in Residential High are not right for town house development and they “don’t make sense” in the Commercial District where the businesses are located, said City Administrator Debra Sullivan.

Setbacks and lot widths were reduced so the lots can be split to allow two separate dwelling units, each on its own lot, as required for the town houses. The commissioners agreed to a 35-foot minimum lot width for townhomes instead of the current 70 feet for duplexes.

A building height of 25 feet, recommended by Serna and unchanged from current regulations, was objected to by Ric Feinberg of Belleair Asset Management, the town house developer.

Feinberg said today’s home buyers want higher ceilings and an “open concept,” which he said would be “very difficult” to do with a 25-foot building height limit. The height is measured from the ground to the peak of the roof. Feinberg wanted that increased to 28 feet. After some discussion, City Attorney Thomas Trask said he and Serna would do some research, and “we’ll bring you back some information on townhomes and the heights that are standard in the industry right now.”

Fire station buyers proceeding with plans

City Administrator Sullivan said the prospective buyers of the old fire station on Indian Rocks Road want to “pretty much keep it as it was.”

“They are proposing offices for their business, keeping the gym area and a possible small retail outlet,” Sullivan said in a report to the commission.

They want to paint it, she told the commission, and “do a lot of landscaping in front, which we would love.”

New Public Works supervisor hired

Russ Schmader was introduced by Sullivan as the city’s new Public Works supervisor, a position that has been unfilled since former Public Works Director Robert David retired in October 2016.

Sullivan said Schmader has worked for the city of Seminole for the past 10 years. He brings a lot of experience with NPDES (stormwater systems), has supervisory experience with a larger city, and a “boots on the ground” attitude, she said.

“He has a lot of great ideas, and fits Belleair Bluffs very well,” Sullivan said.

Schmader said he is “looking forward to working with everyone and bringing an optimum level of service to the community.”

Meeting dates changed

The commission agreed to change the commission meeting schedule for November and December from the usual two meetings a month to a single monthly meeting. The meeting dates will be Nov. 19 and Dec. 10.