BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A professional planner will advise the City Commission on how to proceed in allowing upscale townhomes that would replace aging duplexes and possibly businesses in the city.

The developer has already bought properties to construct four town homes and is seeking to acquire more. The two existing sites are on Jewell Road and Belmar Drive.

Ric Feinberg of Belleair Asset Management Fund, LLC, developer, told the City Commission at its May 14 workshop meeting that he wants to “improve properties that are now is distress.”

“We are targeting duplexes and triplexes and want to convert them into town homes,” Feinberg said.

The problem, he said, is there is no provision in the city code that allows that.

Two town houses would be built on each property, and they would be sold to separate owners. City zoning does not permit dual ownership on one parcel, City Clerk Debra Sullivan explained.

Feinberg said, “We have the authority to build exactly what we want, but we would have to sell them as duplexes and triplexes.”

If the town house on each side is sold separately, Feinberg said they would sell for $450,000 to $500,000 each, and the property would be substantially upgraded.

The town homes would be “a significant improvement of the properties and a significant improvement for Belleair Bluffs,” Feinberg said.

The change he is requesting would not increase the density. Setback requirements and height restrictions would remain exactly the same, Feinberg added.

City Attorney Thomas Trask confirmed that the current city zoning code does not allow what Feinberg is requesting.

“We’ve explained what he can do, and this can’t be done,” Trask said.

Trask recommended a planner that he said would advise the city how the code can be changed and “what the consequences are.”

Feinberg said he did not believe any intervention by planners is needed.

“The issue is, can one of these properties be split and have dual ownership. It’s a very simple change in your code,” he said.

But Mayor Chris Arbutine said a planner is needed.

“We don’t want to haphazardly make changes to the code, because we are not planners,” Arbutine said. “There is no provision in our code that allows this. If we start tinkering with our code to allow it, we could be opening a Pandora’s Box we didn’t expect.”

A planner, Arbutine said, “would take in our information, and tell us ‘here are the ramifications, this is what is being done in other communities, and this is what we should do.’”

Planner Chris Brimo of Calvin, Giordano & Associates, who was present at the meeting, said they would be glad to work with the city. Arbutine told Brimo the developer is buying up residential and business properties “and we want to have a plan for this.”

Brimo said his firm would have a proposal to present at next week’s commission meeting. The commission agreed by consensus to go ahead.

City administrator contract heads to approval

The commission appears ready to appoint City Clerk Debra Sullivan as Belleair Bluffs’ first city administrator. The actual vote on a contract with Sullivan will come at the regular commission meeting. But a “trial vote” on the contract, taken at the workshop, showed four of the five commission members in support, after a $200 a month car allowance was removed.

Commissioner Taylour Shimkus had objected to the car allowance, joined by Commissioner Suzy Sofer.

“Our city is small, and I can’t think it is fair to the residents to be paying for her car allowance … when they already face taxes, and we’re talking about storm fees,” Shimkus said.

Arbutine, wanting to get unanimous support from the commission, had proposed eliminating the car allowance after failing to get agreement from all the commissioners to vote for the city administrator contract as presented.

Commissioner Joe Barkley wanted the car allowance left in, and had even proposed buying a new car for the administrator to use on city business.

Trask said the car allowance is for the city administrator’s use of her personal car on routine city business, “such as going to the county, attending city manager meetings and the like.” He also said the proposed $2,400 a year is low compared to what other communities allow.

Sullivan did not appear pleased with the discussion of eliminating the car allowance. As the discussion continued to center on compensation issues, Sullivan left the room, saying, “I’m going to excuse myself real quick. Just talk freely.”

Upon returning, Sullivan told the commission “since 2016, I have been doing not only the city clerk’s job, but the city administrator and public works jobs. Robert David’s (former public works director) job has not been paid for in a year and a half.”

Sullivan said she did not mind some talk of modifying the contract, but she said, “It has to be fair.”

As city administrator, Sullivan would be paid $89,000 a year, which is $10,000 more than she currently receives as city clerk. Trask said Sullivan had requested $99,300 a year salary, but was willing to make a $10,000 concession.

The car allowance will be finally decided on when the commission votes on approval of the City Administrator contract and appointing Sullivan to the job at the May 21 commission meeting.

Sullivan’s appointment appears certain. Shimkus, even while disagreeing with aspects of the contract, said of Sullivan, “She does a great job.”

Realtor picked to sell old fire station

The commission chose a real estate agent to market the old fire station building and property on Indian Rocks Road. They picked Kelly Kepler of Engel & Völkers, who works out of their Belleair Bluffs office.

Kepler was one of three real estate brokers who made presentations at last month’s commission meeting. Kepler had touted her local connections and said she had talked about the fire station property with a number of people, and has had a lot of inquiries about it.

“I want to come up with the right buyer with a right vision of what the city is looking for,” she said.

In a vote by handwritten ballot, Kepler received three votes. Competing Realtors Brian Andrus of Stonebridge Realty and John Skicewicz of Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate received one vote each.

Arbutine said the commission, not the Realtor, will determine the asking price for the station, which he said should be around $900,000. Offers received so far have been about half that. The value of the old fire station property has been estimated to be anywhere from $500,000 to just under a million dollars.

Sullivan said last month there has been a lot of interest from potential buyers.