ST. PETE BEACH – After more than an hour of discussion, city commissioners voted unanimously July 11 to table a proposed ordinance that would revise St. Pete Beach’s regulations concerning the consumption of alcoholic beverages on the beach.
It will be discussed further at the July 25 City Commission meeting.
The ordinance would revise Chapter 6 of the city code to allow public consumption of alcohol on the beach in conjunction with a hotel. It would be allowable only in a cabana area and no closer than 50 feet from the “wet sand.” Also, those enjoying a drink would be required to wear wristbands to identify themselves as hotel guests.
The proposed ordinance, which was approved narrowly with conditions by the city’s Planning Board, would limit the hours of operation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. It would require drinks to be served by hotel employees and in an identifiable cup with the hotel’s name on it. No glass or plastic straws would be allowed.
The Planning Board also suggested signage be used to alert hotel patrons of “no alcohol beyond this point” in accordance with the 50-foot distance to the surf. That idea drew mixed reviews from commissioners.
“I just would rather not have more signage,” said Commissioner Ward Friszolowski. “Hopefully they (hotel employees) will be trained to explain that you have to stay in your cabana with your drink. We can always come back and address this if it gets out of hand but I’ve always been concerned with just too much signage.”
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher agreed. “I think the wait staff should be taking on that role,” she said.
However, Commissioners Terri Finnerty and Rick Falkenstein spoke in favor of the signage. Falkenstein also suggested the installation of a line of small palm trees to define the allowable area.
“We need signage,” Falkenstein said. “People are coming here from all over the world and they’re going to run straight to that water.”
Tim Bogott, chief executive officer of the TradeWinds Island Resorts, said signage is not the answer and hotels would be best suited to keep patrons within the cabana area.
“I think the important thing here is for the public to recognize this is in the hotel’s best interest to manage this properly,” Bogott said. “If this gets out of hand, it’s going to come back here in front of the commission and that is not in the hoteliers’ best interest.”
Falkenstein said the consequences should be severe. He suggested the city give a violating hotel three warnings and on the fourth warning require the hotel to appear before the city’s special magistrate. A first offense would result in suspension of the right to serve on the beach for 60 days and a second offense would be an additional 60-day suspension and/or suspension until Jan. 1 of the following year.
Other unresolved issues include the definition of a hotel guest and the side setback distance to a residential area. The Planning Board suggested reducing the setback from 75 feet to 30 feet, but commissioners indicated they favored leaving it at 75 feet.
City resident Susan Perodeau questioned why hotel guests are being given the right to have a drink on the beach and city residents cannot.
“Why can’t people who pay taxes here and live here all the time be able to take a cocktail and sit on the beach for a sunset?” she asked. “It sounds ridiculous to me. I see no reason to give preferential treatment to hotel guests. I think it’s really wrong to have a different set of rules for hotel guests than the people who live here and support the community year-round.”
Bill Pyle, a resident of Silver Sands condominiums, spoke against the proposed ordinance, calling it “problematic and inconsistent with the (city’s) comprehensive plan.
“Basically, I think it’s unenforceable,” he said. “Just how would the sheriff be able to check for these wristbands in the midst of these crowds (such as those on the Fourth of July)?”
In other action, commissioners:
• Passed an ordinance on final reading that establishes inspection fees for an annual review of restaurants and automotive businesses concerning the discharge of fats, oils and grease into the city wastewater system. The ordinance requires a business to receive a city permit to operate after updating grease traps to levels required by the Florida Plumbing Code.
• Passed an ordinance on first reading that extends the city’s moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries another 120 days.
• Viewed a video recap of the Robofest robotics competition that took place recently at the St. Pete Beach Community Center.
• Heard a proposal by Veterans of South Pinellas president Harry Metz to build a memorial in Pass-A-Grille next to the shuffleboard courts to honor Florida’s 13 Medal of Honor recipients. The memorial would be 30 feet wide by 20 feet deep and 6 feet tall. Cost is estimated at $35,000. Metz is seeking a $5,000 donation from the city.
• Falkenstein reported more than 180 sea turtle nests have been discovered this year along St. Pete Beach and Shell Island, which he said is an all-time high. Turtle nesting season continues through Oct. 31.