TREASURE ISLAND — More than a thousand visitors flocked to Sunset Beach last weekend for spring break, leaving residents feeling overwhelmed.
They flooded the city with e-mails and phone calls complaining about heavy traffic, illegal parking, blocked driveways, littering, and various forms of intoxicated behavior.
"Ingress and egress onto Sunset Beach is a serious problem, as well as parking and drunken mischief. Sunset Beach is a residential community, not Daytona Beach," wrote property owner Bob Mitchell in a recent e-mail to City Manager Reid Silverboard.
But Kacy Taylor, 20, a Florida State University student visiting with friends from St. Petersburg, disagrees.
"This is bigger than Miami's South Beach," Taylor said Saturday.
Resident Suzanne Melling sent an e-mail to police Chief Tim Casey complaining of "absolutely unacceptable behavior" of the beach visitors and described beach parking as "completely out of hand."
Residents also complained of beachgoers trespassing or setting up beach chairs next to their property.
In response to these and other complaints, the city stepped up police patrols of both the streets and the shoreline, where boats were anchoring sometimes within restricted swim zones.
The city also installed a flashing sign at the entrance to Sunset Beach informing traffic that public parking is available within 1 mile.
"Our police department is doing a good job trying to ensure driveways and streets are not blocked. Traffic is moving slowly, but it is moving," Silverboard said Tuesday.
During peak traffic hours on the weekends, it can take up to 20 minutes for residents entering the island community to get through the largest traffic jams to reach their homes.
This month, Silverboard told the City Commission that he hoped "the word will get out that the traffic enforcement is going to be really strict."
On Sunday, police issued 104 parking tickets to vehicles that were improperly parked or blocking residential driveways on side streets. An additional 100 parking tickets were issued on Friday and Saturday.
The city's marine patrol cited eight boats for anchoring in the swim zone, a 300-foot wide area along the shore that is restricted for swimmers only.
On Saturday, alone, Silverboard said the marine patrol "chased out" about 40 boats that were within the swim zone.
Other citations were issued by police for infractions including urinating in public and underage drinking.
Tony Amico, owner of Caddy's On the Beach, a popular bar and restaurant that is attracting most of the crowd, has hired two off-duty police officers to assist in controlling traffic and visitors' behavior.
Amico said he plans to ask the City Commission to let him install a temporary trailer on the beach to provide restroom facilities for beach visitors. The nearest public restrooms to Caddy's are about a half-mile south at the city's beach pavilion park.
Amico also called on the city to prohibit beach visitors from bringing coolers and beer kegs to the beach.
Caddy's first opened in 1947 and Amico has owned it for the past eight years.
He said the number of beach visitors has increased significantly in recent years and particularly during the spring break months of March, April and May.
"Sunset Beach has become a destination for spring breakers," Silverboard confirmed, estimating that weekend crowds may be as high as 1,500. "This year is a much more intense spring break season. Clearwater is being slammed, too."
Chief Casey said the biggest spring break crowds usually end by mid-April.
He spent the entire day Sunday on the beach and at Caddy's observing the crowds and the traffic.
Casey said it was mostly "a good crowd" and stressed that most of the problems related to public drunkenness involved people who brought their own liquor to the beach.
Caddy's is "very much trying to help control" the situation, Casey said. "It is what it is, a big crowd of people in a small area."