Treasure Island bans alcohol on part of Sunset Beach

05/18/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Last night a three-hour Treasure Island City Commission meeting resulted in an alcohol ban on the shores of the town’s Sunset Beach area – sort of. After an overwhelming majority of locals urged the commission to rethink the proposal -- they unanimously approved a ban that applies to a fourteen-block stretch.

You couldn’t pigeonhole the dozens of locals who told the Treasure Island City Commission last night that banning alcohol on Sunset Beach is a terrible idea. Resident Jeff Fuller said he just bought a house at the epicenter of a beach scene some residents say is over the top.

I remember bragging to family and friends, I could drink a beer on my backyard, which you guys call your beach but I call my backyard, and not be criminalized. I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. I hold a healthcare professional license, and so does my wife, and we're both healthcare professionals, and we don't think it's fair that we would be turned into criminals to drink a beer in our backyard.

The commission was set to pass a law curtailing alcohol possession or consumption on that beach on weekends during peak hours. It came after a proposal banning drinking on all city beaches went nowhere. It aims to deter the thousands of people who pack the northern tip of Sunset Beach on spring and summer weekends. The sometimes-rowdy flock has metastasized over the years since word spread that drinking is legal here. It now packs the area adjacent the beachfront restaurant Caddy’s during peak hours. Sunset Beach resident Dean Barlow said the city already has laws that, if enforced, would take care of the bad behavior that’s causing the complaints.

Set up DUI checkpoints, bring in Pinellas Sheriffs if we need to, set up cooler checkpoints to stop the glass problem. On May 3 I heard about a child stepping on a beer bottle. Most residents feel bad about that. We already have a no-glass ban, so let's enforce that one. Eliminate all off-site parking.

Resident Kay Keller said it’s well known in the bar business that this type of crowd is a migratory one, and will probably stop flocking here when it’s longer deemed cool.

There's always going to be the next greatest hot spot. Right now it's Caddy's. We all remember various places, when you think of Spring Break, when you were that age, where was your favorite place? It wasn't Sunset Beach, and it probably won't be in another year or two.

People opposed to a ban echoed that the city needs to enforce laws already discouraging binge drinking, or come up with a more precise measures targeting its causes. The city commission outlawed kegs on the beach in 2009. Coolers and outside alcohol aren’t allowed on Caddy’s property. Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce head WD Higginbotham said a drinking ban would decimate the local economy, while outlawing only packaged liquor on the beach would help local businesses.

The Chamber's proposal is to prohibit bottle packages or containers of alcohol, such as cases of beer, but allow beachgoers to purchase or carry individual cups from licensed vendors or local restaurants.

Only about half a dozen people spoke in favor of the proposed ban. One was Sunset Beach resident Marybeth Becker.

We had a car parked in our driveway this past weekend, backed into our garage. I thought maybe they were going to turn around and leave. They turned off the engine. They were about to get out of the car. I went down, I said, "You can't park in our driveway." And they said, "Why? Do you have to get out?" I thought, "Why do I have to explain why you can't park in my driveway?"

Andrew Kress grew up on Sunset. He said it’s not alcohol; it’s the crowd.

The lady who had people parking in her driveway, well, they weren't drunk, they were just showing up, and they weren't the little family going to the beach that we used to see here. They were more the Caddy's crowd.

Robbie Welborn said regardless, a ban would prevent future calamities like a recent alleged brawl that caused the police to clear the beach north of Caddy’s.

A real solution is needed now, before a tragedy becomes synonymous with Sunset Beach, and it will get to that point if we let this continue.

After two hours of public comment showed those against the ban resoundingly outnumbered supporters, the commission appeared gun shy. They went with a ban that covered a smaller area and slapped an expiration date on it. The new ban applies to the area between Treasure Island’s 8500 and 9900 blocks from 8 in the morning until 6 in the evening on weekends and holidays. It expires, or sunsets, October third. The commission can choose to reinstate it. City Commissioner Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach, is a strong ban proponent. He said he’s okay with the compromise, since it will buy the city time to craft a ban proposal for a future ballot.

Two weeks ago, I was a little concerned that I couldn't convince them to go further, but tonight, with the intent to put this in front of the voters, and I think the voters will pass this, I think we're on good ground. I think we're headed in the right direction, and things will be a lot better for all our residents.

Tim Driscoll, an attorney that several residents and business owners retained to challenge any ban that passed, said he still sees some flaws.

They're trying to regulate something that they think is going to happen, rather than something that's already happening, and that makes it illegal. The fact that they put a sunset provision on it means that they're really not committed to the idea, and they probably shouldn't have adopted it at all.

Driscoll added that the commission is practically picking boundaries out of a hat to address a problem they can’t really identify. He said his clients may still pursue legal action. Some residents still dislike the compromise, since locals who regularly and without incident bring alcohol to affected beaches are being unfairly treated.

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The problem is from the over abundance of PARKING IN ONE AREA that facilitates the crowds...........which are currently the pay parking lots, This area has proven it can not handle that many people........and therefor the pay parking lot has created an unsafe environment and a public nuisance ....and like ANY other business creating a public nuisance should be shut down ..until they correct the problems they created.