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Letter below to Friends of the Belleview Biltmore from Sam Casella May 15, 2005

Document #1:  Attorney List May 6, 2005, to Belleair Town Manager, Steve Cottrell

Document #2:  Letter from attorney, Terrell K. Arline, May 11, 2005

Document #3:  Analysis May 12, 2005, to Belleair Town Manager, Steve Cottrell

Document #4:  Transmittal to Belleair Town Manager, Steve Cottrell, May 12, 2005

May 15, 2005

Dear Friends of the Biltmore:

Friday, May 13, 2005 was a very good day for all who want to save the Biltmore!  For those few who have been working to demolish the landmark it was just another baleful Friday the 13th.

Two significant things happened that day.  First, the town manager, to his credit, sent out a memo signaling that he has accepted several major arguments put forth by preservationists regarding the pending demolition permit.  Second, the Town Commission, to their credit, hired as their legal counsel for this matter Nancy Stroud who is arguably the finest legal talent in the state for this type of case.  The implication of these two events taken together is we can reasonably anticipate that the town is going to reject the demolition permit and fight hard to defend that position.  I say bravo!

As a citizen and professional planner who has strived for those two events to occur, I’m deeply encouraged that Friday was a turning point in the battle to save the Biltmore.  Not the end of the fight by any means.  But certainly a turning point.  Just 10 days earlier the town’s former legal counsel was telling the world that there is little that could be done to stop the demolition (St. Petersburg Times, May 14, 2005).  Now it is clear that the demolition can be stopped and there is an opportunity for all of us to take action that will give the Biltmore the permanent protection it deserves.

For those of you interested in some details of the 10 days that led up to Friday’s turning point, I’m making available four documents:

My letter to the Town (May 6) recommending five attorneys for consideration as special counsel.  This letter was sent after 3 days in which I contacted land use lawyers around the state to identify the best legal talent to represent the town in this type of litigation.  Number one on my list was Nancy Stroud who the town has now hired.
My letter to the Town (May 12) transmitting a professional planner’s analysis of the major issues confronting the demolition permit.
My 11 page analysis (May 12) demonstrating that the demolition permit could not be issued because it would be inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and because the applicant had failed to comply with the development review provisions in the town’s code of ordinances.  My analysis was vetted with several land use attorneys including Michael W. Morell, Terrell Arline, Nancy Stroud, Steve Helfman, and Ted Taub.  A few hours after taking my analysis to town hall, I got a call from the town manager about it and the next day his memo (mentioned above) was sent out.
A letter to me from Terrill K. Arline (May 11) providing his opinion as an attorney that it would be a clear violation of state statutes and local ordinances for the town to issue a demolition permit without first considering whether that development order would be consistent with the comprehensive plan.  This letter was sent to the town on May 12.

My message to all of you dear people who are fighting this fight is that we have won a battle, but much remains to be done.  Everyone needs to stay involved until we have ensured that the hotel is protected by the full weight of intelligent public policies, strong local ordinances, and other legal tools such as conservation easements.  We also need to develop wise strategies to ensure that its physical condition is protected and that it remains economically viable.  Those accomplishments lay ahead of us, and only when they are in place can we rest easy and be secure that the events of a few weeks ago will not happen again.  The hotel may be given a reprieve and the next months and years will determine whether we can make the most of it.

Thank you and best regards,

Sam Casella


Sam Casella, FAICP, PP
The Planning Authority ® LLC