TREASURE ISLAND – After about three hours of discussion, city commissioners voted May 17 to pass a controversial ordinance limiting alcohol consumption on Sunset Beach.
However, there were a few new wrinkles from the original version of the ordinance passed on first reading two weeks earlier.
The revised ordinance will be in effect only through Sunday, Oct. 2 before the issue is turned over to voters in the city’s next general election, which will be the Florida Primary in January.
In the meantime, alcohol will be banned on public beaches on Sunset Beach Saturdays and Sundays, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., from the beach access just north of the Sunset Chateau at approximately 85th Avenue north to 95th Avenue. The ban also will be in effect Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
The original version of the ordinance called for a ban from Blind Pass north to 95th Avenue, but residents of Sunset Beach complained their rights were being violated and the City Commission adjusted the measure accordingly.
The discussion included more than two hours of public comments on the proposal before commissioners continued the discussion for another hour.
Most of those in attendance were against the proposed ordinance and a handful supported it.
Among them was Jeff Warner of Sunset Beach.
“It’s time you move forward on this,” Warner said. “I support you.”
Another in favor of it was Mary Beth Becker, who lives on Gulf Boulevard near the north end of Sunset Beach. Becker complained of beachgoers parking in her home’s driveway and not leaving when asked to do so.
“We strongly support this ban,” Becker said. “Alcohol is directly related to the problem. They (rowdy beachgoers) arrive about noon and by 2 o’clock they’re completely out of hand. We need to do something and we need to do it now.”
Fred Kelsey, who lives on Blind Pass Drive, said commissioners should exclude local residents and their guests from the ordinance with a beach-drinking permit.
Dan Helton, another Sunset Beach resident, suggested that the ordinance would result in more profits for Caddy’s on the Beach at 9000 West Gulf Blvd.
“This is an isolated beach problem on a small area on the north end of Sunset Beach but the ordinance addresses an area nearly one mile to the south,” Helton said. “Limit the parking and you limit the crowds.”
St. Petersburg attorney Tim Driscoll, representing businesses and individuals on Sunset Beach, said the ordinance has many flaws.
“It’s arbitrary and capricious,” Driscoll said. “It addresses a small area of the beaches (in Treasure Island), not the entire beach. It has arbitrary days and times. It’s very vague and you’re going to have difficulty enforcing it.”
Driscoll added the ordinance violates equal protection rights of citizens and business owners of Sunset Beach “who are being singled out without justification.”
Driscoll also noted city residents voted down a previous attempt to ban alcohol on the beaches in 1986.
“I think you have to go back to the voters to overturn this (1986 vote),” said Driscoll.
Driscoll also presented a petition against the ban with 400 signatures of local residents and 987 nonresidents.
Tony Amico, owner of Caddy’s, suggested moving the south boundary of the ban north to Wacaser Park near Caddy’s “and see if the problem goes away.
“That way, the rest of the beach can have their beach,” Amico said. “I wish there was a wand I could wave and the problem would go away. But that’s not possible short of closing my business. But that wouldn’t solve the problem.”
Fred Stern, owner of the Ka’Tiki Hut across from Caddy’s, suggested putting the issue up for a public vote.
“Listen to your constituents,” Stern said. “Wake up.”
City Commissioner Gail Caldwell remained adamant that the ban should include all of Treasure Island.
“I still think this is a partial solution,” Caldwell said. “If we do this, we should do this on everyone’s beach. Otherwise, I don’t think these people that drive here from a distance will have any problem moving a few blocks away.”
Commissioner Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach, said the city should consider what other cities have done.
“If we look at what other cities have done, we would ban alcohol (on all beaches),” said Bildz. “We’re talking 20 hours a week out of 168 hours.
“The bottom line is this is about safety,” Bildz said. “It’s not going to be long before one of our residents hurts one of these so-called tourists. And what are we going to do then?”
Police Chief Tim Casey said he and City Manager Reid Silverboard decided to move forward on alcohol regulation due to an increasing problem of large numbers who, for the most part, are intoxicated.
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction,” Casey said. “For the last three or four years I’ve been listening to this problem. The incident of April 17 (when the beach was closed and six were arrested for obstruction of justice) probably brought me to a point that we’re going in a certain direction. I don’t want this to progress.
“We can be proactive, intervene now and take care of a problem I believe is coming if we don’t take care of it.”
Mayor Bob Minning later suggested adjusting the north boundary in a revised ordinance and putting the issue before city voters for a final decision on the future of a ban.
“I suggest a trial period and I would also suggest a ballot amendment to put this in front of voters at the next city election,” said Minning. “We have a situation here where we’re faced with a dilemma. We didn’t ask for it, but it’s here.
“We have a business owner who is asking us not to ban or restrict alcohol and our police chief who is recommending we restrict it. To be candid, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”