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These folks pay for beach and quiet

Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore are quite content to be residential. The only business is a motel.

By KRISTI SIEGEL, Times Correspondent

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2001

Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore are quite content to be residential. The only business is a motel.

You won't find a gas station in Belleair Beach or Belleair Shore.

You can't buy a stamp here or a gallon of milk.

Catch the beach trolley? Forget it.

If residents get the munchies, they might head to Pajano's Pizza in Indian Rocks Beach.

"The Belleair Beach people we see in here normally order the steak and cheese sub," said night manager Jay Salmon. "All the locals love that."

Save for a motel, there is no commerce. Roughly 1,800 residents. Period.

Belleair Beach is proud of the reputation as a "residential community," Mayor Mike Kelly said. "It's a very strong quality of life."

"I don't allow much crime (here)," said police Chief Ernie Armistead. Vagrancy and trespassing are the common offenses.

No parking is allowed on city streets or in vacant lots; on-street parking is permitted only for commercial vehicles during working hours. Residents must notify the police when they require additional parking.

To the south is Belleair Shore, a milelong strip of some of Pinellas County's largest and most valuable homes -- and nothing but homes.

The 51 waterfront properties on the same side of Gulf Boulevard range in value from $400,000 to $2-million. Some sit empty part of the year, enjoyed only by winter residents.

The two towns' 33786 ZIP code was ranked the sixth wealthiest in Tampa Bay by the Business Journal's 2001 Book of Lists, based on a 1999 median household income of $63,000. (Longboat Key is No. 1.)

Recent discussions at Belleair Beach Town Hall included the possibility of a new administrative building and reconstruction of the Belleair Causeway bridge, scheduled for 2004.

Despite an average of 2.2 people per household, families are growing steadily. "In the last three years, we've seen quite an influx of younger families," Kelly said. "That's one reason we went to the expense of building a playground near city hall."

Before condominiums dotted the shoreline, the Belleair Beach landscape was mostly sawgrass, palmettos and pine trees. Residential development began swiftly after the town's incorporation in 1950.

"The whole area is just booming," said R.P. Hite, 25, sales representative for Century 21 Beggins Enterprises. "(Beach property) values have gone up 20 to 30 percent in the last two years. A lot of people who had originally bought their homes there 30 years ago for $40,000 are just amazed that they are worth nearly $400,000 now.

"Over time you'll see a lot of the older ranch style homes disappearing," Hite said. "A lot of the 1950s and '60s homes are being knocked down and built brand new." Newer styles include wood-stilt homes and more hurricane-resistant brick.

The essential attraction for Belleair Beach newcomers is the beach itself. "I moved from Tampa so I could be near the (gulf)," said Vice Mayor Bob Park. "There is a high demand for waterfront properties."

The only business in town is the Belleair Beach Resort Motel. "It's what guests call a hidden mystery," said manager Micari Bishari, 54. For almost three decades, the motel has served as a venerable vacation spot for generations of mostly European travelers.

While the town beach is open to the public, the only parking is at the municipal marina. An ordinance prohibits pets, food, drinks and the launching of watercraft from the shore.

For all its quiet grandeur, Belleair Shore has experienced some unwanted public exposure.

Two men once claimed to be mayor. In 1995, the national media snickered after the town fined two women for drinking their morning coffee on the beach. In the 2000 Census, "undercount" took on new meaning when the town's population came up as zero. (According to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, there are 84 registered voters.)

"There are very nice people here," said Commissioner Mary Alice Grizzle. "I love the beach. I walk on the beach every day if I can. I grew up here. My roots are here." Grizzle's father built the brick family homestead on Gulf Boulevard in 1954.

Rumors flew recently that actor John Travolta had purchased a home on Belleair Shore's mansion mile, "but I can tell you he did not," Grizzle said. "We're just pretty normal people here."

Belleair Beach

Belleair Shore

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