Treasure Island set to pass Sunset Beach alcohol ban

05/16/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Spring break may be over, but that’s not stopping revelers from packing one Pinellas County beach each weekend for months on end. It’s gotten so bad on Treasure Island’s Sunset Beach that city officials might ban alcohol on certain days.

Every day at sunset, a local rings a bell that’s fastened to a palm tree at a beachfront park on Treasure Island’s Sunset Beach. Some celebrate the neighborhood’s namesake with a plastic up brimming with strong drink. Glass isn’t allowed on Treasure Island’s beaches, but the community is the only one around that allows alcohol. But that may soon change. For about two years, some Sunset Beach residents have been urging the Treasure Island City Commission to ban alcohol on the beach. Residents like Thomas Ferrante want to discourage the hundreds of inebriated beachgoers who flock to Sunset Beach every weekend.

"People come over my wall, they defecate all over my property, they come in my pool area, use my showers. They're drunk, they're disorderly. The police do everything they can. They're overwhelmed."

Walk down one of the neighborhood’s side streets on a given spring or summer weekend, and you’ll see cars with parking passes for University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College. Some come here to party from as far away as Orlando. They bring coolers, tents, and even beer pong tables. Locals aren’t exactly thrilled with the sprawling patches of beer cans, plastic bags and cigarette butts the crowd leaves in its wake, let alone the fights that can break out. But residents like William C. Hadley say these don’t add up to grounds for an all-out alcohol ban.

"The problem is not the consumption of alcohol, it's the public performance that's the issue. And it seems to me that public drunkenness is a police issue. Public parking that's not authorized is a police issue. And indecent exposure is a police issue. All covered by current regulations. And I do believe we have a police department that's large enough to handle that challenge."

On the table Tuesday night was a proposed ban that would apply to the entire three-mile stretch of Treasure Island’s beaches on weekends and some holidays between 8am and 6pm. Former Treasure Island mayor Julian Fant said most Pinellas beaches ban alcohol consumption of any kind on the beach, and still manage to draw tourists.

"Why are we, if it's so great, the only city in Pinellas County which allows it to take place on a public beach? I think everyone can see a stationary object 93 million miles in space without having to wade in the water with an alcoholic beverage. I read one comment recently in the press that if we don't take some action to curtail this type of activity, we'll have serious incidents. Believe me, we already have."

Many locals and business owners disagree. They say people come to here for the privilege of sipping a Mai-tai while wading in the gulf. They say to ban booze island wide would stymie the economy. Carol Malkin, who lives in a neighborhood on the island’s north end, said such a ban would diminish Treasure Island’s appeal.

"What about the impact on our package-store owners, our hotels, and all the businesses along the beach? The guests can't have a cocktail in the sand, stick their feet in the water and have a cocktail and watch one of our beautiful sunsets?

Fred Stern is co-owner of Ka’Tiki, a bar across the street from where the offending beachgoers flock. He said the vast majority of those who imbibe in the sand do so in a way that doesn’t involve fights, lascivious acts, or drunken driving. He said proposed ban reminds him of something that happened in his military days.

"Remember the sergeant major came through our barracks. We were all standing STRACs, Strategic Army Command. We were all spit-shined, standing for inspection, I passed inspection, not a problem. One guy screwed up. His foot locker was ass-backwards. And because his foot locker was ass-backwards, they pulled all of our passes. Seventy-six guys had our three-day pass pulled because one guy had a bass-ackwards foot locker."

After more than two hours of public comment Tuesday, it was clear a majority was against the ban. Some said banning alcohol just on Sunset Beach on weekends would probably do the trick since there isn’t much parking further north. City Commissioner Gail Caldwell said a limited ban would send the problem to other parts of the beach.

"My personal opinion is that if you ban alcohol or restrict it, these restrictions, they will go up there and there will be parking spaces up there. I think it's simply avoiding a problem that's going to happen. For that reason, I support it the way it is."

While the commission deadlocked over a total ban, they all supported a substitute motion that would apply to Treasure Island Beaches from 99th Avenue south to the Blind Pass inlet, or, all of Sunset Beach. City Commissioner Phil Collins said if the commission did otherwise, it’d be cutting off its nose to spite its face.

"If you have a splinter in your hand, you don't chop off your hand. You address that splinter in your hand, that problem. The problem is the citizenry of Sunset Beach, these people enjoy the quiet enjoyment of their home. It's our responsibility to make sure that they get that, but not at the expense and cost of the rest of the island."

The ordinance the commission approved would apply to Sunset Beach Saturdays, Sundays, and some holidays between 8am and 6pm. It still needs a second reading before becoming law. Some Sunset Beach residents are afraid the proposed partial ban would create a slippery slope leading to more restrictions. The second reading is scheduled for 6pm Tuesday, May 17 at City Hall.

Other WMNF news coverage of the alcohol ban

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Keep the pleasure police working!!!

Hell yeah… ban booze, T-backs, smoking and fishing on all of the beaches!!! Tourist will go to Daytona, South Beach and the Keys. As for us… we can “drill here, drill now”!!! You can’t gripe about tourist’ seeing drilling platforms in the Gulf… if the tourist’ aint here!!! Why would they want to come here… when they can’t do anything here??? Besides… you can’t see the beach from the casino anyway.