TREASURE ISLAND — Complaints about activities on the city's beaches drew very different responses Tuesday from the City Commission.
In the case of a proposed fund-raising bonfire on Sunset Beach, the commission ignored numerous complaints from nearby residents and gave its approval.
The commission unanimously granted a permit to the Sunset Beach Civic Association to hold a bonfire south of the Beach Pavilion on Dec. 1.
The bonfire had prompted a flood of emails and phone calls from residents of Mansions by the Sea who said the bonfire would endanger their health and safety.
Mansions resident Joe Consolo appeared at the commission meeting to repeat his protest.
"We have some real health problems at the Mansions. Many of our residents have respiratory problems. The smoke isn't going to do them any good at all," he said, suggesting that smoke could blow in through the condominium's laundry vents.
Consolo said the bonfire would "contaminate the beach," and if the fire spread to nearby sand dunes could set fire to the condominium carports.
"We are talking about human life here," he said.
Association president Kristy Anderson said the group has moved the bonfire site away from the Mansions, farther south on the beach.
"We are excited about this," Anderson said. "We think it is going to be a good community event."
Commissioner Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach and joined in approving the bonfire, warned that it would be "one of the most closely watched events in Treasure Island history; if anything goes wrong."
The commission similarly took unanimous action to resolve complaints from beachgoers tripping into holes dug by drum circle participants. It led to a new ordinance that gives police the authority to arrest anyone who fails to fill in holes they dig in the beach.
"If an officer sees someone digging a hole that could be a hazard, they could instruct the person to fill the hole," City Manager Reid Silverboard said.
He said it would be an offense, subject to arrest, if the hole digger refuses to fill the hole.
City Attorney Maura Kiefer said people are "digging very large trenches" on the beach where they sit and drink during the drum circle.
"These holes present a possible danger to unsuspecting individuals, who may fall in them and get injured. The city has a duty to safeguard the public from possible harm from these holes," Kiefer said in a memo to the commission.
But the ordinance she drafted not only makes failing to fill such holes "unlawful," it prohibits "any activities" on the beach that the city deems "dangerous to the health, safety or welfare" to any person or that would "cause damage" to private or public property.
People who "engage in any activity within the public beach that interferes with the use and enjoyment of the beach and its facilities by other patrons" is specifically prohibited.
What those prohibited activities might be were not defined.
The new ordinance, which was unanimously approved by the commission, must be voted on a second time before it goes into effect.
For more than a decade, a diverse group of people — tourists, spiritualists, families and partiers — have gathered before sunset on Sunday evenings on the beach near 104th Avenue.
It began in 2001, when a college-age modern dance student invited a group of friends to gather on the beach to drum and dance to memorialize the setting sun.
The gathering quickly became a tradition and it now attracts people countywide, as well as from surrounding counties.
They bring a variety of drums, gongs and homemade instruments.
In 2007, when surrounding businesses and residents complained about the noise and trash left on the beach, the city decided to put a curfew on the drum circle.
Under the curfew, activities must stop at 9 p.m. during the winter and 10 p.m. during the summer.