TREASURE ISLAND – The Treasure Island City Commission decided to table a proposed ordinance July 1 that would limit an area off of Sunset Beach as a safe swim zone without boats after a number of people protested and a possible lawsuit was threatened.
The issue will be discussed next at an Aug. 5 commission workshop.
At the June 17 commission meeting commissioners approved the new ordinance for a swim zone that stretches north from Blind Pass to the southern edge of Weckesser Park. A buoy line would limit boats to idle speed-no wake zone no farther than 300 feet into the gulf.
Due to the protests to the ordinance at the June 17 meeting, the commission briefly discussed tabling it for further discussion but relented and approved the ordinance on the urging of Commissioners Ed Gayton and Phil Collins. Gayton was hesitant upon rewriting an ordinance “in midstream” and Collins noted the ordinance could always be adjusted at a later date.
At the July 1 commission meeting a second and final reading of the ordinance was to be read when still more residents came to voice their disapproval, including Tony Amico, owner of Caddy’s on the Beach and Jonathan James Damonte, a lawyer representing Amico’s partners with Caddy’s, TI Holdings.
At a previous meeting, Amico was convinced the proposed ordinance was indirectly aimed at his establishment which some patrons access by boat. Faced with an expected pinch in his business with proposed parking restriction on Sunset Beach, the swim zone may be a dagger at his business Amico claimed.
Damonte suggested the proposed ordinance was in fact aimed at Caddy’s and per a Madeira Beach case where a similar ordinance was ruled unconstitutional. Damonte emphasized the ordinance not only met the standard for an unlawful ordinance but if approved he said his clients may have no other recourse than to seek legal action against the city.
“In our view the ordinance is unreasonable and overbearing,” Damonte said. He went on to say the ordinance was proposed by a minority of residents, some of which he claimed were part-time residents. “There’s no evidence (of a boating safety problem). There’s no evidence rising to a nuisance, just antidotal evidence. It seems to be tailored to Caddy’s. That restricts one class of property owners.
“This will greatly prohibit Caddy’s. This amounts to a taking because it restricts the right to use the waterfront. There are a number of existing ordinances sufficient” to enforce any boating nuisances.
This testimony from Damonte prefaced a testy and at times heated exchange of words between Gayton and Amico.
Gayton didn’t feel 300 feet is an onerous distance to swim in to Caddy’s, citing shifting sands often make the distance so shallow boaters can walk, not swim. Amico emphatically stated the distance was beyond reasonable for not just adults, but near impossible for children.
“You are taking my rights away,” Amico said. He also had evidence of tax returns documenting that owned strips of land currently submerged that are used by boaters to moor in order to patronize his establishment.
“This (ordinance) was brought up about protecting people south of Caddy’s,” Gayton said. “I don’t think we are impeding anyone from going to Caddy’s.”
Amico noted on one weekend afternoon he counted 200 boats that at one time or another had moored offshore in order to visit Caddy’s. The exchange between Amico and Gayton came to a head when it seemed Gayton was scolding Amico for seeking legal action.
“You shouldn’t be threatening the city with a lawsuit,” Gayton said. “You should be working with us.”
“I was here last (meeting) and you chose to go ahead (with the ordinance),” Amico countered.
Gayton insisted the ordinance was a safety issue and not targeting Caddy’s. Amico asked if he could meet with city representatives because he had potential options the city could take.
“Can’t we give boaters an area where there are no swimmers?” Amico asked. “Yes I want to keep swimmers safe but I also want to keep (boat) traffic.”
Gayton agreed that a boaters-only area was “a good idea,” complimenting him on the suggestion.
After a number of others who later spoke against the ordinance and as a result of Amico wanting to work for a solution that both sides could live with, the commission decided to table the issue until Aug. 5.