BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A developer is eyeing at least six properties as sites for possible upscale townhomes. These would replace rental duplexes in the area of Indian Rocks Road and Jewell Road.

Town houses would be a new housing option in Belleair Bluffs, said City Clerk Debra Sullivan. She told the commission at their April 9 workshop that they are not allowed under the current city code, but offer “an exciting opportunity” to upgrade the city’s housing choices. Sullivan said the developer had recently met with her and Mayor Chris Arbutine to talk about his “town house vision.”

He said the duplexes would be torn down, and the property split into two town homes with separate owners, having a price of about $450,000 each. Arbutine said the sites are being underutilized with the duplexes, which he said was worth an estimated $180,000.

Sullivan said the town home concept fills a housing need. She said retirees who have a large expensive home, in neighboring Belleair for example, may find a town home to be an ideal downsizing option.

Commissioner Suzy Sofer said she liked the idea. The duplexes are rentals, where the town homes would be owned, and that “would get rid of the tenant situation that has plagued our city,” Sofer said.

Commissioner Joseph Barkley said the townhouses would bring the city added tax revenue. Arbutine said the developer already had potential buyers interested in buying the town homes at $450,000. He noted the typical home values in Belleair Bluffs “top out at about $500,000 to $600,000.”

Michael Hendzel, the CEO of the developers, Belleair Asset Management Fund, said in an interview April 10 the company plans to build about a dozen townhomes in the next 10 to 18 months. “The Bluffs City Living” is what they are considering as the name of the development.

The developers have built smaller-scale developments in the Clearwater and Largo areas.

“Our plan and our vision for this development project is to capture as many of these duplexes and triplexes … and turn them into beautiful modern townhomes and create an intimate city living experience for the residents,” said Michael Hendzel, the CEO of the company.

While there was general agreement town homes would be a valued addition to Belleair Bluffs, the city code does not currently allow them. Sullivan said the two-story structures meet the code’s height and floor area requirements, but because the two townhouse units are joined together on the property line, they fail to meet the side-setback rule in the middle. But the code can be changed, Sullivan said.

The commission decided to bring in a professional planner who would look at what code changes would need to be made, and to offer advice on how the city can add townhouses to its housing mix.

Commissioner Taylour Shimkus said she had met with the developer earlier that day.

“I told him we would like the change (to add town homes), but we want to make sure they are owner-occupied,” she said.

City set to create town administrator position

The commission appeared ready to appoint City Clerk Sullivan as city administrator, a job similar to city manager. Actions must first be taken to create the position. That will be on the April 16 regular meeting agenda.

The city charter does not allow the commission to hire a city manager, City Attorney Tom Trask has said. But they can hire a city administrator, he said. Trask will prepare a series of items to be voted on that establish the city administrator position.

The new job description would formally define the position to agree with the work actually being done by Sullivan.

“There is nothing in this job description that I’m currently not doing,” she said.