Clearwater – A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a preservation advocacy group seeking to save the former Belleview Biltmore hotel from demolition.
Friends of the Belleview Biltmore and its president, Rae Claire Johnson, had accused Belleair commissioners of nepotism and colluding in the hotel’s sale by failing to enforce both town and federal historic preservation laws. The suit said the town’s inaction gave the Biltmore’s owners carte blanche to illegally withhold routine maintenance in hopes of making a case for demolition.
Johnson and Belleair residents Doris E. Hanson and Mary Lou White asked the court to stop hotel owners from selling the property to a private developer, force the owners to make repairs, make the town levy code enforcement fines and grant the plaintiffs restitution for lowered property values.
However, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. McCoun III on Friday granted Belleair and owner BB Hotel LLC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Even when viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the complainants and assuming all their allegations were true, McCoun said, they didn’t prove that the federal court had standing to decide the case. That’s because the plaintiffs invoked the National Historic Preservation Act, which applies only to federal — not state or local — agencies or governments that try to undertake a project that is at least partially funded by another federal agency.
“Nowhere do plaintiffs allege the involvement of a federal agency or that these local activities between the town and private parties (developer and hotel owner) are a federally-assisted undertaking,” McCoun wrote.
He acknowledged that he didn’t have to address the lawsuit’s other arguments. But the judge also chimed in that the plaintiffs couldn’t argue that Belleair or the hotel’s owners had “breached their duties to protect the community’s common heritage” under the Public Trust Doctrine because the law applies only to navigable waters, beaches, flora and fauna — not historical structures.
Ed Armstrong, attorney for developer Mike Cheezem, who plans to redevelop the long-shuttered resort property with condos, townhomes and a boutique hotel, said the latest ruling “validates what we have said all along — that their lawsuit was simply a delaying tactic, an attempt to obstruct our application.”
He added: “We look forward to moving on now that this case has been closed.”